'Good Progress' On Settling Auckland Port Dispute

MUA Deputy National Secretary Mick Doleman has today flown out to Auckland in an attempt to help further progress with the ports management. A full update below:

Facilitation to settle the Ports of Auckland protracted labour dispute over a new collective agreement is "making good progress" after 11 meetings between the company and the Maritime Union and with two more booked, says ports company chief executive Tony Gibson.

Speaking to the Waikato Institute of Directors today in Hamilton, Gibson said he had spent 166 hours in negotiations, meetings and facilitation, not counting preparation and follow up work, since the industrial dispute between the Auckland City Council-owned company and the Maritime Union started late last year.

Gibson said the structure of Auckland governance, the new single super council, had been "very helpful" in dealing with the long drawn out dispute.

"The governance situation is working very well. We continue to get good support - they want change, we want change."

Asked about interaction and support from the port's board, Gibson said during the "crisis", the board and management had become integrated.

"It's a very nerve wracking time for the board. There's reputational damage and other issues but we have become one. You couldn't tell the difference."

During the height of the union strike action which disrupted shipping operations, the company had been in almost daily contact with all its stakeholders, from the Government and local government to trucking and logistics companies, he said.

Asked if there was anything he would do differently, Gibson said he was "probably naive".

"I thought there could be a cultural change. There is a culture predicated around social responsibility and another around customer needs. Neither way is right or wrong."

The company's new five year strategic plan came after over 30 workshops with staff, he said.

The port had lost $25 million in business to the Port of Tauranga in the past six months, he said.

The port company wants a new collective agreement with waterfront staff to lift falling productivity, compete more effectively with the Port of Tauranga, ease the capital investment burden on Auckland ratepayers and increase dividends to the council.

The port, the gateway for 36% of New Zealand import and export trade, had recorded 8.2% compounded annual growth since the 1980s but revenues were flat and earnings before interest and tax (ebit) below Tauranga.

It had facilitated trade to the value of $12.2 billion and delivered dividends totally $500 million to Auckland city.

The Port of Tauranga was making more profit than the Ports of Auckland, although it was a smaller port in terms of containers handled, and for a container port the bottom line was scale, Gibson said.

Without productivity improvements, Auckland ports' company capital would be exhausted by 2013-2014, he said.

Over the past decade the port had lost ground to Tauranga, although it had the best port location and the most modern equipment, he said.

"We have poor labour productivity. We are not allowed 12 hour shifts, 8.5 hours is the maximum allowed. We are not allowed to allocate the best performing staff to specialised skill areas. We have fixed shift start times, we don't service a ship when it arrives..."

"We have been saying for some time our business model had to change - we have not been able to satisfy customer demand and compete with Tauranga."

Auckland's three cranes make 22 movements per hour, but Tauranga, with just two cranes, achieved 35 per hour.

"Despite that ours are more modern, faster and reach further, Tauranga can reach the same level of productivity as us."