THE SHIPPING Association of Jamaica (SAJ) has reaffirmed its commitment to the viability and competitiveness of the Port of Kingston.
As the association prepares for its 65th annual general meeting this week, president Harry Maragh, has identified competitive rates, high productivity, good industrial relations and maintaining a sophisticated and effective security infrastructure as the four main drivers of competitiveness for the Port of Kingston. The Port of Kingston is now ranked 65th among leading world ports.
Noting that the SAJ has a critical role in securing these fundamental elements for the continued development of the shipping industry, Mr. Maragh stressed that the association was committed to pursuing programmes aimed at further growth and development.
"World trends dictate that we must be competitive and shipping lines are demanding a more skilled workforce. Therefore, we must implement the kinds of programmes and strategies that guarantee growth in our market share. We recognise this and we continue to make necessary adjustments," he said.
He said productivity on the port had increased significantly, with 26 moves per gross hour now being recorded.
Mr. Maragh added that the relationship between the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) and the SAJ had demonstrated the possibilities of effective public and private sector partnerships, noting that while the PAJ concentrated on infrastructural improvements to boost competitiveness, the SAJ had done much to enhance the productivity of the workforce.
The president praised the visionary leaders of the shipping industry including the trade unions, which created the structures that have won industrial peace on the Port of Kingston.
This peace as well as the continuous improvements in productivity were won by the demonstration of real concern for welfare of workers on the port, who have been provided with a generous list of benefits including pension, guarantee pay and sick and vacation leave, national insurance, a health scheme.
The founding fathers of the modern shipping industry introduced an equitable system to finance these benefits by placing a commercial charge on shipping lines using port labour supplied by the Shipping Association. This charge, called a cess, is levied on each tonne of general cargo or on each container moved in the domestic trade.
Mr. Maragh said this cess is vital to the association's work in honouring the obligations of the port community to protect the rights of port workers and secure the future of the shipping industry. He explained that the SAJ is mindful of the need for the port to remain competitive, and over the years, has periodically reviewed the levels of cess in relation to total expenses.
"As a consequence of increased efficiency, the industry has seen at least four reductions in cess during the past six years and the most recent was done in April 2003 when we removed the cess from transshipment cargo and reduced the rate on domestic cargo by six per cent," the President explained.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on United States on September 11, 2001, and the more stringent security arrangements being required for countries trading with that nation, the PAJ and the SAJ are focusing jointly on improving the security of Port Bustamante. This is vital if the viability of the port as well as Jamaica's trading relationship with the United States, in particular, is to be secured.
In response to the global move to improve security at national borders, a Security Cess was recently introduced at the port and this is being used for training security personnel and acquisition of new security equipment and systems.