Ports of Auckland Dispute Highlights Wider Issues

The Maritime Union appreciates the factual basis and insight displayed by the New Zealand Herald in its editorial "Merger key to ports being more efficient" (Friday 9 December 2011).

Your editorial got it pretty much right on the relationship between ports and global shippers in New Zealand.

The editors of the New Zealand Herald and New Zealand watersiders have had a traditionally prickly relationship, yet we have no doubt that your editorial summed up some key points.

Thus it was interesting that Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson reacted with such outrage to your comments (15 December 2011), portraying them as an attack on his integrity, and also an attack on the integrity of Maersk, the company for which he once worked as New Zealand managing director.

Mr Gibson seemed more concerned about his own public image and that of his former employers, Maersk, than dealing with the coherent points put forward by the New Zealand Herald.

The Maritime Union believe Mr Gibson's present focus should be on resolving the industrial dispute in Ports of Auckland.

For several weeks now, he has led an ongoing and futile attack via the media on his own workforce, with the sole and unquestionable achievement of derailing any hope of a quick and painless settlement to negotiations. 

Mr Gibson has portrayed his employees as overpaid and underworked, inflexible and unproductive, and from his recent dramatic descriptions one could wonder if any containers were moved at his port at all. 

Yet the Ports of Auckland 2010/2011 Annual Review, available on their website and signed by Mr Gibson, tells a different story.

It states that "after a challenging year all-time best crane rates were recorded over the June Quarter, contributing to an annual result up 2.4% on the previous year. June quarter rates were 4.1% up on the previous best quarter."

The Ports of Auckland website also quotes from a Ministry of Transport on container productivity from November 2011 as finding productivity of New Zealand ports compares well with Australian and other international ports.

In reality the Ports of Auckland has delivered good returns and has seen ongoing productivity increases from its workforce.

It seems that depending on which audience Mr Gibson is playing to, he sings from a different song sheet.

His constant attacks against the Port workforce certainly are certainly having an impact, but perhaps not the one intended.

This situation has culminated in his ongoing threats by letter to the homes of workers families that all jobs at the Ports of Auckland are under consideration for outsourcing. A strange kind of Christmas message indeed.

It appears in Mr Gibson's world when New Zealand workers (and taxpayers, neighbours and family people) engage in a legal negotiation process to protect their interests, they are wreckers and dinosaurs. 

But when a large multinational corporate such as Maersk, whose only commitment to New Zealand is how much money they can extract from us, pulls a service to suit their own agenda, then we are expected to bow in subservience and sing their praises.

The Maritime Union is concerned at the role Maersk is playing here, and intends to report back to our international affiliates in the Maersk union network, who regularly meet with Maersk global management to discuss issues of mutual interest.

One wonders in all this whose Mr Gibson's loyalties lie with. Ports of Auckland? With Maersk or other shipping conglomerates? His budding friendship with the CEO of Port of Tauranga Mark Cairns?

It keeps on being pointed out that Maritime Union members will be taking industrial action on Christmas Day and New Years Day.

Unlike many armchair critics, maritime workers actually work on those public holidays, and every other day of the year, around the clock, often on unsocial shifts that can impact heavily on family life.

Are these aspects of productivity that Mr Gibson, or indeed any business commentator, or the media, care to examine?

The reality is that many families are working two or more jobs, with the introduction of 24/7 shift work it becomes even harder, and the final step is when "flexibility" means workers are on call any time of day or night. 

The effect this has on family life and routine can be devastating. 

This situation has taken hold in many areas of the New Zealand workforce and we have no intention of letting it get away from us at the Ports of Auckland under the euphemism of "flexibility".

It is unclear whose agenda the continued campaign by Tony Gibson serves. But it does little for his employees, and it is the driver behind the increasingly serious dispute at the Ports of Auckland.

Ports of Auckland workers involved in industrial action are very aware of the situation and are prepared to take the short term hit to preserve decent conditions for the long term. 

All decisions are made by open vote and our negotiators are elected union officers. It's a democratic process.

The Ports of Auckland Limited annual report quoted above features one of those corporate mission statements in the form of some "company values".

The last company value stated is "We work together - we create better outcomes when we communicate and work as a team".

The Maritime Union thinks it is time the CEO and his senior management at Ports of Auckland started following their own values.