Hong Kong shippers will have uninterrupted trade flow to the West Coast of the United States soon if the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) can convince the Intermodal Longshoremen Workers Union (ILWU) to stop work stoppages. PMA chief executive Joseph Miniace said he was hopeful that changes would occur because ILWU was aware that shippers would take their business elsewhere - like Mexico and Canada - if they did not provide a dependable workforce. In the past two years, 135 work stoppages have cost the PMA about US$150 million in losses. When additional costs to shippers, extra fuel for ships to go to the next port, trucking and rail costs were added, the overall losses added up to $600 million. The PMA - which comprises 90 US and foreign-flag operators, stevedores and terminal operators involved in moving water-borne cargo through ports in California, Oregon and Washington - negotiates and administers maritime labour agreements with ILWU. 'We have to fix the $600 million problem because we cannot tolerate any work stoppage,' Mr Miniace said, adding that shipping lines were burdened with low freight rates and imbalanced cargo flows. He said that there was an urgent need to make changes to the next three-year contract between PMA and ILWU to do away with work stoppages. He added that the ILWU, which represented 21,000 members, and the PMA would negotiate through collective bargaining to arrive at a win-win situation. Mr Miniace said ILWU members were well paid - earning an average $112,000 a year - while some workers worked as little as eight shifts per month to earn up to $200,000 a year. The PMA did not wish to resort to redundancies and had implemented joint re-training programmes in the past two years, he said. Last year, 15,000 longshore employees were retrained.