Friday, March 30, 2012

Pressure on Freight Flow Lifts as Wharfies Return to Auckland Ports

A Solution or Simply a Quick Fix?
Shipping News Feature

NEW ZEALAND – The settlement of a dispute at the Ports of Auckland (POAL) which has persisted for four months somehow has the feeling of a lull in the fighting rather than an armistice. Just hours before the Employment Court was to hear deputations from both unions and employers came news that the ‘wharfies’ could return to work and get back to ensuring the free transit of freight through the terminals. Although cargo has continued being handled by contract labour some tonnage has been diverted through other ports whist the dispute has persisted and the tactics used by both sides have sometimes been controversial.

Union bosses have been jubilant after the POAL management agreed to cancel the notice to lock out 235 staff after they took industrial action. The dispute claimed one notable scalp, that of former union man Rob Campbell who resigned from his position as port director. Mr Campbell was apparently a prime mover in the decision to take on more contract labour in Auckland and his decision was plainly linked to the controversial plan.

The decision to lift the notice locking out the dock staff from the 6th April met with markedly different reactions from the two sides. Whilst the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) welcomed the news that the POAL management would return to negotiations with the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) and suspend plans to contract out stevedoring work it was still critical of a statement from port CEO Tony Gibson. Mr Gibson said:

“POAL remains focussed on ensuring it is highly competitive and can stem the loss of business that the company has seen over the last decade. That will not happen if we do not change historic work practices and restrictions which are out of touch with today’s reality.

"Over the last 10 years POAL has lost significant market share, this equates to around $73 million in revenue; If that trend continues over the next 10 years that would equate to a further loss in the order of $260 million. Paying on average 40 hours for 26 hours worked costs POAL over $8 million per annum. This cannot continue. Work practices at the Container Terminal must be customer focussed, flexible and modern.

"For the first time in 61 years the container terminals have worked through strike action. The past four weeks have seen the new modern approach to work at the port in action with crane rates not previously achieved at Ports of Auckland. It is a credit to our people who have kept working through the strike, and gives us real hope for the future."

ITF dockers’ section secretary Frank Leys responded saying:

“This statement, just hours after the decision to go back to the negotiating table was announced shows bad faith on Mr. Gibson’s part. It also emphasises the point that whilst we are celebrating this victory, we have won the battle not the war. The ITF and the international trade union community will remain vigilant over this dispute until the ink is dry on a fair and substantive collective agreement for Auckland workers.”

Until the stevedores return to work, which will be certainly in the next few days, contract labour will continue to operate the berths.