Sat | May 30, 2020

SAJ shows advantages of electronic deployment during crisis

Published:Tuesday | April 14, 2020 | 12:07 AM

An article appearing in Lloyd’s Lists Market Intelligence on April 5, 2020, reports that labour-dispatch halls at some of the world’s ports may need to reconsider their methods of deploying labour amid the current health crisis. Those ports can learn much from the Shipping Association of Jamaica (SAJ), which employs and manages a cadre of 340 skilled workers of varying types, which it deploys electronically to the terminals operating at Port Bustamante each day, using cutting-edge technology provided by ADVANTUM.

Since 2008, the SAJ has been using the ADVANTUM e-Labour Telephone Recruiting System (TRS), which does not require stevedores to congregate at a dispatch hall as currently exists at the ports mentioned in the Lloyd’s Lists article written by Eric Watkins.

Lloyd’s Lists Article

In the article titled “Labour dispatch halls may need reconsidering amid health crisis”, Watkins reported that longshore unions continue to assign work to dockers through dispatch halls on the US East Coast and West Coast and the Gulf as they try to balance safety with the need to keep ports fluid during the coronavirus pandemic.

The article noted that such safety efforts may not be enough as underscored last week when a terminal at the port of Los Angeles had to be closed temporarily when a dispatcher at one of two union halls tested positive for the coronavirus. Union leaders and their employers’ representative had to act swiftly to stave off what could have been a disaster in the packed dispatch halls.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union leaders, together with the Pacific Maritime Association, representing the dockworkers’ employers, isolated the dispatcher and quickly closed down the two dispatch halls.

That caused a momentary crisis because labour could not be dispatched to one terminal, where a ship due to be worked on was turned away and drayage truckers were caught in lines more than two miles long.

SAJ Electronic Deployment

In the case of the Port of Kingston, such an occurrence is avoided through the ADVANTUM e-Labour TRS, which assigns to every stevedore a unique pin number and personnel number that the system uses to identify their individual skills and other important information. The SAJ’s dispatch hall is, therefore, a virtual place, and the recruiting windows operate online through the TRS. The system utilises a voice-recognition system in communicating with stevedores who call in daily for information on assignments at the two terminals operating at Port Bustamante. The TRS can assign duties to 26 persons simultaneously, and in one minute, 100 workers can be deployed without having to converge in a dispatch hall.

The SAJ’s online labour deployment system is linked to the two terminals at Port Bustamante – Kingston Wharves Limited (KWL) and the Kingston Container Terminal (KCT). Through the online system, terminal operators inform the SAJ of their specific labour needs along with other relevant information. The TRS then assigns duties to stevedores and generates a text message to stevedores with details of their work assignment while at the same time generating a ticket that is printed at the terminal where they are assigned. An SAJ supervisor meets them at the terminal and gives them the ticket that is perforated into three parts: a lunch ticket, a receipt, and a part to be presented to the supervisor at the work site to verify attendance.

The current pandemic is showing other ports the advantage of adopting a system of labour deployment similar to the electronic one used by the SAJ.

As stated by the Lloyd’s Lists article, “Dockworkers need to be kept free of contagion, and supply chains need to remain fluid. That much is clear. But the supply chain also includes dispatch halls, and if they can adversely affect the safety of dockworkers and the fluidity of the supply chain, then perhaps it’s time to find an acceptable alternative to dispatching labour to the docks.”


For over a decade, ADVANTUM has been providing specialised information and communication technology services for shipping interests in the Caribbean and is an active member of the steering committee on Jamaica’s Port Community System project. They, therefore, have the advantage of current knowledge to ensure that their applications are compatible in generating files for integration.


Formed in 1939, the Shipping Association of Jamaica is registered under the Trade Union Act of Jamaica and is a service provider to the ports as well as a member-based organisation of terminal operators, stevedoring contractors, and shipping agents, the latter being the marketing and logistics representatives of shipping lines in Jamaica.