Business as usual on Fridays at Northport

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KUALA LUMPUR: Following concerns from clients and the Port Klang Authority (PKA), Northport has withdrawn its policy to stop operations during Friday prayers.

In a circular issued yesterday, Northport chief executive officer Rubani Dikon said the policy to suspend operations for 70 minutes to allow Muslim staff to perform their Friday obligations will be reviewed, hence normal operations will continue.

The Edge Financial Daily yesterday reported concerns by port clients and the PKA who were caught unaware by the implementation of the policy last Friday.

Customers of Northport which include freight forwarders and logistics players were worried that this will adversely impact business.

A circular issued last Monday indicated that the Friday prayer break will commence at or around 12.40pm and end at or around 1.50pm, to help strike a better work-life balance among Northport’s 2,400 Muslim staff.

In a new circular yesterday, Rubani said Northport will continue with operations as normal without disruptions.

“After the first Friday prayer break trial, upon consultation with PKA, and feedback from customers and other stakeholders, the Management of Northport (Malaysia) Bhd has decided to review the Friday prayer break initiative,” he said.

At the same time, a guarantee was given by Northport’s parent company NCB Holdings Bhd’s group managing director Abi Sofian Abdul Hamid that it will not compromise on the needs of customers.

“We began implementing our two-month (Nov-Dec 2014) trial period last Friday and already we are reviewing the impact on our operations.

“They (Northport management) will look at all aspects and see whether the concerns of our customers as reported (by The Edge Financial Daily) are warranted.

“I know because it’s the start of something new many of our customers will get worried about the break and if it will affect their shipments. We will not allow this to happen because we don’t want our customers to run from us,” Abi Sofian said, adding that customer satisfaction comes first.

Touching on the directive by the PKA to immediately withdraw the directive and circular, Abi Sofian said Northport had not received a black and white directive from the body.

He further explained that the idea behind implementing the Friday prayers trial break period was a long time coming as Northport has a 90% Muslim workforce.

For the male Muslim, conducting Friday prayers is a must according to the Islamic tenets whereby a male Muslim should not miss performing Friday prayers three times consecutively without justifiable reason.

He said since last year Northport had received approval to conduct Friday prayers at the surau within its premises.

“Last time, we had to go out of the port and perform our religious duties at Bandar Sultan Sulaiman.

“Nowadays, we perform our Friday prayers right next to the wharf. That’s why we are very confident of being able to meet the demands of our customers and perform our religious duties at the same time,” he said.

Abi Sofian added that based on observations last week, some workers immediately went back to work after listening to the khutbah (sermon) and performing the two rakaat (prayers).

“We made this move in a step-by-step manner to ensure service disruption will not occur,” he explained.

While clients have received the recent development with a sigh of relief, one former client had harsh words for the management.

“It’s a good thing I have moved my company vessels to Westports. For us as a shipping line, an hour of delay translates to easily US$20,000 (RM60,000) in operational cost and lost opportunities,” said the senior shipping line executive.

“In shipping, delays would usually result in disruption in schedule where we miss a berth window at the next port.

“This would result in waiting time at anchorage, hence additional bunker cost and daily charter cost,” said the executive who wished to remain anonymous.

He also said developed ports like Singapore have strict berth window policies or first in first out slots.

“If you miss the window, you get thrown into a long waiting line of vessels at anchorage,” he said.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 18, 2014.