7 Mar 2012

Auckland port to make workers redundant

8:38 pm on 7 March 2012

Ports of Auckland is pushing ahead with its plan to contract out work on its wharves, making nearly 300 staff redundant.

The port company announced on Wednesday that it will introduce competitive stevedoring into its Fergusson and Bledisloe Container Terminal operations.

It said that up to 292 employees, mainly stevedores, will be immediately affected by the decision.


Stevedoring staff will be encouraged to apply for new positions with three different stevedoring companies which will be appointed.

In statement on Wednesday, Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson said a process of consultation will begin later this week on redundancies at the port.

The issue of contracting out has been at the heart of acrimonious industrial action on the waterfront.

More than 300 members of the Maritime Union are in the second week of four weeks of strike action as they try to negotiate a new collective agreement with the port company.

Ports of Auckland says the new system it intends to use to employ waterfront workers has worked effectively at another New Zealand port for 25 years.

The chair of the port company's board, Richard Pearson, told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday under the new system, waterfront workers will be employed by three independent stevedoring companies.

"The system that we're putting in place has been working in Tauranga and the Port of Tauranga for 25 years and I think everyone's quite satisfied with the way it's working there. So I don't accept that this in any way is an onerous system."

Mr Pearson said he did not expect there would be significant differences in the way things work for individual staff.

"The main point will be that we'll be getting more flexibility, and that we'll be getting people on the job when we need them rather than having a lot of people sitting round when we don't need them."

Mr Pearson said redundancy payments will average $30,000 to $35,000 and the redundant workers' positions could be completely filled in 10 weeks' time.

Union prepared to take court action

Workers who will be sacked are promising to fight for their jobs, and the Maritime Union says it could mount a legal challenge to the redundancies.

Union president Garry Parsloe says having so many workers lose their jobs is gutting, but is what they were expecting.

Mr Parsloe told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday the union is prepared to go to court over the dispute and expects this to happen soon.

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) president Helen Kelly said the union had offered massive changes, recognised by the port as significant, but the port refused to settle the dispute over the collective agreement.

Ms Kelly said workers now have about six weeks to fight what she calls a sham of a process.

Meanwhile, workers are vowing to fight to keep their jobs.

About 70 people were on the picket line at the Auckland waterfront on Wednesday, including stevedore Danny Balsham who has worked at the port for 33 years and is determined to fight to keep his job.

Another stevedore Carl Findlay, who has worked at the port for 10 years, said the loss of jobs is going to hit his and a lot of other families hard.

Both said they would not take up Ports of Auckland's suggestion that they apply for positions with the new contractors. Mr Findlay said it just adds insult to injury.

Mayor defends stance, Govt won't intervene

CTU president Helen Kelly again challenged Auckland's mayor to stop sitting around and step in to save the port workers' jobs.

Len Brown has repeatedly said his powers to intervene are severely limited by legislation surrounding the port.

But Ms Kelly said that is rubbish, as the council is the owner of the port and Mr Brown can make councillors change their expectations.

Mr Brown said that while he has strong support from the working people of the city, he is the mayor for all of Auckland.

He said he wants the ports to deliver good commercial returns and be a strong international presence - not only for the city, but for the country.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key said on Wednesday the Government would not intervene in the dispute as it is a matter for Ports of Auckland and the union.

Mr Key was asked on Wednesday why the Government is refusing to step in, when it is in New Zealand's economic interests to keep the ports operating.

"I think the port company would probably argue the steps they are taking is delivering exactly that - economic viability for the port.

"The Government doesn't intervene in industrial disputes, unless it is a party to those disputes or the parties ask us to mediate," he said.