Ports of Auckland appears to enter new era with council, union

From Checkpoint, 7:45 pm on 29 July 2021

Ports of Auckland appears to be welcoming a new era in its relationship with Auckland Council and unions, after years of tension.

Ports of Auckland

Photo: RNZ / Kymberlee Fernandes

The council, which is the Ports' only shareholder, ordered an independent review into the operation late last year following multiple injuries and two onsite deaths.

The review's findings, which were published in March, revealed major safety concerns, laying the blame squarely with management.

Since then, former chief executive Tony Gibson has resigned and it was interim chief executive Wayne Thompson who appeared alongside safety and well-being manager Vanessa Matakatea at Auckland Council today.

They were providing an update on the March review, and its 45 recommendations, which Thompson said they had a detailed plan for implementing.

"We can't go back and fix the past, but what we can do is sort of work on and deal with the future - and that's what we're committed to do as a team," he said.

Mayor Phil Goff said that team was already proving to have a positive impact - with Maritime Union (MUNZ) reps commenting to him that their relationship with the Ports was the best that it'd ever been.

"We sometimes throw brick bats, this time it's a bouquet to Ports and to MUNZ, that are working closely together on this," Goff said.

A key part of that appears to be down to Matakatea, who told councillors the Ports wanted to work constructively with staff, involve union officials and delegates and focus on a culture change.

"When I came in, there was certainly a level of fear there that they couldn't talk, they couldn't raise those risks... it was certainly breaking that barrier, so for me the voice coming from our people is, if they're not comfortable with something, they will say so."

The Ports today also gave a revised plan around its automation project, which has been marred by delays and was recently paused after a crash.

It's now expected to go live in March 2022.

While Ports staff were speaking to councillors about safety - not automation - chief executive Wayne Thompson acknowledged they were linked.

"Safety will trump speed, and safety will trump timing of that rollout as well."

Councillor Richard Hills was among those who was pleased about the change in relations between the organsations.

"Just the conversation here is probably the best conversation I've had with Ports of Auckland in the past couple of years as a group... hopefully this means a relationship change.

"I have not felt comfortable in the last couple of meetings over the past couple of months or year - so thank you for that."

While Goff said there could be no absolute assurance that there would be no more accidents at the Ports, things appeared to be moving in the right direction for the first time in four years.

The Ports of Auckland will give another update on their safety performance to the Council in October.