Medicine shortage fear in port war

Critical medicine shipments are unable to reach Australia, sparking drug shortages and delays because unions are holding the country to "ransom" over a wharfie pay dispute.

Imports of common cholesterol and cancer medication, and other PBS-listed items for arthritis, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, have been delayed by "go-slow" tactics deployed by the Maritime Union Association (MUA) under protected industrial action at the Patrick Terminal in Port Botany in Sydney.

At least 40 ships are waiting to unload off the coast of NSW, as the MUA seeks a 6 per cent annual salary increase for wharfies for the next four years.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has advised the federal government drug companies are concerned extended industrial action will disrupt medical supplies.

 

The Patrick Port Botany Container terminal, where vital medicines are being held up.
The Patrick Port Botany Container terminal, where vital medicines are being held up.

In an issues brief, the TGA confirmed Pfizer, Sanofi, Novartis/Sandoz and Amgen were "closely" monitoring the situation and would try to "mitigate" any shortages using airfreight "where possible".

"(Delays) could result in medicine shortages, but also affect the quality of goods held in containers on the waterfront, particularly those with low-temperature storage requirements," the TGA warned.

Pharmacy Guild Australia senior vice-president Trent Twomey (pictured) said the union activity was already causing shortages in cholesterol and cancer medications.

"We now have drug shortages, and if I find we have drug outages, and that results in deaths, I will be putting those at the feet of the MUA," he said.

Mr Twomey said the MUA was fuelling a "national security issue" by threatening the integrity of medicine supply chains in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the country is being held to ransom over the dispute. Picture: Kelly Barnes/Getty Images
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the country is being held to ransom over the dispute. Picture: Kelly Barnes/Getty Images

"Containers filled with major medicines are floating just off shore and even if companies have to divert to air, rail and road, that pushes the cost of freight up and ultimately that gets passed on to the consumer," he said.

A Patrick Terminal spokesman said the company was "bewildered" by the industrial action, as the average permanent employee was paid about $155,000 a year.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin previously blamed the situation on port mismanagement, including IT issues and recent closures for construction. "None of these substantial interruptions to operations were the result of actions by wharfies or the MUA," he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: "The MUA is holding the country to ransom with extortionate claims which has seen ships backed up, out at sea, trying to bring things into our country when we are in a COVID recession."

Medicines Australia said medicines requiring refrigeration could be damaged.



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