8 Mar 2012

Council dividend considered a factor in port layoffs

1:39 pm on 8 March 2012

Auckland mayor Len Brown has conceded his council's demand for bigger dividends has played a part in the laying off of Auckland port workers as the company goes ahead with its plan to contract out their jobs.

Up to 292 Auckland workers, mainly stevedores, will be made redundant as the company introduces competitive stevedoring into its Fergusson and Bledisloe container terminals.

The workers will be replaced by contractors which council-owned Ports of Auckland believes will be more flexible and efficient.

Ports of Auckland has agreed to double to 12% the dividend it pays to the Auckland Council over the next five years.

The council expects to receive $54 million in dividends during the next three years.

Len Brown says labour arrangements are just one part of the port's strategy to boost the dividend, and other aspects of how the port works will change.

Mr Brown told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme that nobody wants a protracted industrial dispute but it is not his role to manage the operations of the port, which operates under a stand-alone corporate structure.

Labour Party transport spokesperson Phil Twyford says the council is putting the company under extreme pressure and that has taken a toll, and it should rethink its 12% dividend demand.

Legal process followed - port

The chairman of the Ports of Auckland board says the company has followed the letter of the law in its decisions on contracting out and redundancies.

Richard Pearson told Morning Report the company has followed correct legal process and is not worried about any legal challenges.

The Maritime Union says its members will continue to fight for their jobs, angry that they have been dumped to be replaced with cheap labour.

Employment lawyer Peter Cullen says the company is entitled to contract out work and, legally, there is not much the workers can do.

Mr Cullen said their best option now would be to seek political support from the Government and Auckland Council.

Auckland councillor Richard Northey said it was still possible to negotiate a new collective agreement that would achieve the desired efficiencies without laying off workers and he urged the company to return to the negotiating table.

The port company estimates industrial action has cost it $25 million, excluding $11 million in expected redundancy payouts.

Stop-work meeting in Christchurch

Hundreds of port workers in Christchurch are holding a two-hour stopwork meeting on Thursday afternoon to discuss the Auckland dispute.

The Maritime Union and the Rail and Maritime Transport Union, which between them have 600 members at Lyttelton Port, are jointly holding the meeting.

Other South Island port workers have said they are prepared to take action in support of Ports of Auckland staff, despite Employment Court injunctions forcing others back to work.

The branch secretary of the Maritime Union in Port Chalmers, Phil Adams, says watersiders in Dunedin will refuse to work with ships loaded by non-union contractors in Auckland if asked to do so by the union's national leadership.

In Timaru, the union's branch president says members there have already decided not to work with such vessels.

The secretary of the Bluff branch says Auckland-loaded ships rarely dock in Southland, but if one does his members could take similar action.

Injunctions granted by the Employment Court over the past week have forced employees at Lyttelton Port in Christchurch, CentrePort in Wellington and Port of Tauranga to work on vessels from Auckland.