Sunday, March 11, 2012

Port Workers Delay Container Freight as Dispute Escalates

Auckland Workers Garner Support
Shipping News Feature

NEW ZEALAND – Recriminations are flying around Auckland as the dispute over dockers jobs escalates. The dock workers, or ‘wharfies’ as they are known locally, are enraged following the Ports of Auckland’s decision to axe 300 jobs and replace the workers with outside contractors. The employers say the dispute is not about money but performance which they say is proving inferior to rivals like Brisbane and Sydney, as freight on container vessels is delayed in other ports whilst unions claim that a leaked document proves the aim is to improve financial returns for the owners Auckland Council Investments Ltd.

Unions say they have evidence that the council owned investment group wants to raise returns to around 12% in five years and the redundancies are needed to fund operational savings. Yesterday the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) says thousands of people turned out to a rally in support of the Auckland workers and to show solidarity with members of the ITF affiliated Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ). A message sent from ITF dockers’ section secretary Frank Leys said:

“This is a blatant attempt at union busting and that’s something that the international trade union community just won’t stand for. And, from the turnout at this rally it’s clear it’s not just unions who think the ports management’s treatment of Auckland workers is wrong. Workers from other industries agree that action must be taken to stop big business profiting at the expense of ordinary people who are just trying to make a living.”

The ITF has put up a website in support of the dock workers which can be seen HERE. The redundancies are planned to take place within the next six weeks with stevedoring services being contracted to private companies whilst there have been Court injunctions to compel dock workers in other New Zealand ports to load and unload several container vessels delayed by the strike and worked on by non union labour.

Now the Mayor of Auckland, Len Brown, has stepped in to try and mediate in the dispute but has angered some by stating his dissatisfaction with union bosses whom he says have dithered for eight months when they could have been bargaining. The Council has taken out a series of advertisements in local newspapers putting their case which has further enraged union officials who responded with accusations that the ports owners were panicked at the level of support for the wharfies.

On Friday Ports of Auckland announced it has signed contracts with Drake New Zealand and AWF Group following its decision to introduce competitive stevedoring at its Fergusson and Bledisloe Container Terminal operations. Many of our older readers in the UK will remember similar scenes in the 1960’s, when dock workers fought a losing battle to halt containerisation and preserve union domination over all aspects of shipping and stevedoring.

Photo : Courtesy of the ITF