THIS UPDATE IS CURRENT AS AT 14 MARCH: The Ports of Auckland/MUNZ dispute is playing out as an industrial 'fight to the death' in New Zealand.
The Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) entered a bargaining period with the Ports of Auckland (PoAL) last year, asking for very modest wage increases and certainty of conditions.
What played out was employer militarism on behalf of the Ports of Auckland corporation - which is public infrastructure wholly owned by the Auckland taxpayers.
MUNZ PoAL members have been on an all-out strike since 24 February and this has been rendered the port virtually dormant.
Around 3 out of more than 30 ships have called in to PoAL terminals to have cargo worked by non-union labour. Sadly, much of this labour are former MUNZ members. However, these cargo operations have been interrupted and/or unsuccessful. The remainder of the ships have seen fit to bypass the Port of Auckland.
Those ships that have used the non-union labour in Auckland have been targeted in subsequent NZ ports, with port workers and stevedores refusing to handle them until court injunctions have compelled them to work the cargo.
Importantly, due to the non-union labour working the ports and the behavior of the employers, Auckland has now been declared a Port of Convenience - an international standard denoting appalling labour conditions and safety.
During this time, advertisments were seen in Australia for stevedoring workers in Auckland. Ports of Auckland says it was a "recruitment agency's mistake that has seen it advertise for workers in Australia."
Late last week (8 March) MUNZ members at PoAL received their termination notices.
There are broad political considerations to bear in mind when understanding this dispute.
MUNZ is probably the most powerful and well-organised union in New Zealand and now that Ports of Auckland has sacked its 300+ MUNZ workers, it is expected to move to contract out all of the services.
We can expect that the broader New Zealand employer community will take notice from PoAL's success and that a wave of challenges to unionised workforces will spread across the country. This already seems to have started with another meat processing company locking out its workers in pursuit of flexibility & productivity.
This is further illustrated by Ports of Auckland's refusal to meet with the Mayor of Auckland and MUNZ for mediation and discussion.
As this is a political dispute, we can suspect that PoAL is being used by the National (conservative) government to provoke a dispute likely to generate sufficient public opposition to militant unions and workers to facilitate the government implementing anti-union and anti-worker changes to existing labour laws.
So far this tactic has failed as the public relations campaign being coordinated between MUNZ & New Zealand Council of Trade Unions has succeeded in swinging public support behind MUNZ and PoAL workers and their families.
This is in part due to PoAL being owned by the local authority and therefore the Auckland ratepayers who are generally unsupportive of casualisation, privatisation and the stonewalling by PoAL in progressing settlement of the collective agreement.
There is international significance to this dispute also as privatisation, casualisation, the resultant undermining of health & safety and the possible introduction of Global Network Terminal Operators (GNTO) are all pillars upon which the ITF's Ports of Convenience Campaign are based.
GNTs are to varying degrees anti-union and in all cases not prepared to engage the union movement unless compelled. They also have the capacity to use efficiencies from their international networks to distort local competition thereby threatening other unionised port operations in the country.
Work is being done through the ITF to prevent Maersk ships visiting New Zealand ports altogether, on the understanding so that they will not be worked there. These talks are progressing.
In addition, the ITF is aiming to ensure that no Maersk ship calls into Auckland during the dispute.
In addition, Maersk vessels are being inspected Australia-wide. The ITF is mapping and tracking Maersk movements world-wide.
The ITF President Paddy Crumlin, the current ITF Dockers Convention in Aqaba, Jordan, and local unions are working to coordinate international action and solidarity.