Fight On As Auckland Wharfies Made Redundant

[First published on 7th March 2012]

Wharfies facing redundancy say there is no way they will work for Ports of Auckland's new contractors.

Almost 300 unionised workers will be forced to reapply for their jobs after Ports of Auckland announced it would contract out work on the waterfront, employing three competing firms to supply stevedoring services.

Maritime Union president Garry Parsloe said the wharfies were "gutted", but the move wasn't a surprise.

Parsloe received a letter from Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson this morning making the announcement.

There was no way that the workers would seek work with the contractors, he said.

"Who would want to work for this bloke who bashes around his workforce? His actions are reprehensible. He doesn't care about their lives or family."

There was no basis for the port's proposal, he said.

"We're already providing flexibility and have offered even more in negotiations with the ports."

Parsloe joined more than 100 workers at a picket line outside the port on Tamaki Dr, waving protest signs and shouting chants.

Many passing vehicles were slowing down to honk their horns and show support.

The union called on Aucklanders to join their public rally this Saturday to make a stand for secure jobs for workers.

It welcomed comments from the Mayor of Auckland, Len Brown, supporting a collective employment agreement at the port.

However, Brown said his ability to intervene was "severely limited" by laws governing the port.

"I am on only one side in this dispute. The people of Auckland.

"We deserve a port that is competitive, a decent return for ratepayers and a settlement that is sustainable," Brown said.

He said he was "in constant contact with both parties in the dispute and they are aware of my concerns about the consequences for Auckland as a whole and the families directly involved".

Today's news follows "an extensive eight-week consultation and evaluation process", the port said.

Gibson said there was a compelling business case showing that competitive stevedoring could enable Auckland to become New Zealand's best-performing port, and a leader in the Asia-Pacific region over a short period.

"Until now we have been constrained by practices which have reduced the port's competitiveness, and in recent months industrial action, which has lost us significant business."

Port chairman Richard Pearson said contractors lined up to bid for the stevedoring work had already had 50 to 60 applications from jobseekers and the three firms had indicated they would have no problem recruiting staff.

''Even if none of those guys [striking port workers] come back, we can have the port back running at full capacity in eight to 10 weeks,'' he said.

Fewer stevedores will be required under the new contracts because they would allow staff to be deployed more efficiently, said Pearson.

''The difference will be they won't be sitting doing nothing during those [working] hours.''

But Pearson said there were likely to be jobs for all who wanted them as some current staff would probably choose to take redundancy and retire.

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Pay and conditions for workers under the new contracts would likely be similar to those operating at Port of Tauranga.
''That's a good blueprint for anyone.''

Pearson said the board's first priority is to win back lost business and retain current clients.

Labour leader David Shearer said he was "very disappointed" by the decision.

"This decision - which will cost millions of dollars in redundancy payments - will have a huge effect on the workers and their families, on Auckland ratepayers and businesses and on the country as a whole, all of whom will be left to pick up the tab," Shearer said.

"Labour believes that negotiations between employers and workers should always be conducted in good faith. It is disappointing that no longer appears to be possible in this case because of the Port of Auckland's decision."

When asked why the port hadn't sought an injunction to force striking union staff to work ships, Ports of Auckland spokesperson Dee Radhakrishnan said the workers had a right to fight for specific terms in their collective employment agreement.

She described the strikes that occurred in CentrePort and Port of Tauranga as ''secondary'' and ''illegal''.

''Those workers aren't covered by the Ports of Auckland collective agreement and are striking in support of the [Auckland] workers, so an injunction can be applied to them.''

The union-blacklisted container ship Maersk Aberdeen was scheduled to head to Nelson on Friday but has been rescheduled to go to Tauranga.

The ship was being loaded in Wellington last night after an Employment Court injunction ordered Wellington's CentrePort wharfies back to work.

Unionised cargo workers at the capital's port had refused to handle the fully loaded 14,000-tonne Maersk Aberdeen since Friday because non-union labour in Auckland had worked on it.