13 Mar 2012

Auckland mayor's mediation attempt fails

12:17 pm on 13 March 2012

The Ports of Auckland dispute has seen a high-level attempt at mediation end in failure on Monday and allegations of intimidation on the picket lines.

The council-owned port company and striking stevedores attended a three-hour meeting with mayor Len Brown Monday afternoon but emerged empty-handed.

There is no change to plans by Ports of Auckland to replace up to 292 workers - mainly stevedores - with contractors after eight months of industrial dispute.

Maritime Union members are in the middle of a month-long strike over the decision to use contract workers.

Ports of Auckland chairman Richard Pearson says the company remains on track to have contractors working at container terminals in six weeks' time.

The union group at the meeting was headed by Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly, who renewed calls for greater political pressure by the mayor and his councillors to back the workers who will be made redundant.

Mr Brown says his door remains open though no further talks are scheduled.

He says he has asked both sides to act with restraint towards each other and respect the rule of law.

Ports of Auckland announced last Wednesday that it will introduce competitive stevedoring into its Fergusson and Bledisloe container terminal operations which it believes will be more flexible and efficient as a result.

Ports of Auckland is wholly owned by the Auckland Council and operated through Auckland Council Investments Ltd.

Company claims intimidation

Mr Pearson says sinister elements within the Maritime Union are preventing workers from applying for the new positions.

"The collective negotiations are over. We're now into implementing the decision. The contractors have already been engaged and they are recruiting.

"Where I feel the mayor could help in the mediation is to try and get the staff that are out on strike to apply for jobs with the contractors because we understand that there's a sinister element in the union that's preventing the individual employees to make that decision."

Mr Pearson says port workers should not be offered false hope that they can get a collective contract and keep their jobs.

Claims nonsense, says union

The Maritime Union says its management is acting under instruction from workers to reject the outsourcing and Mr Pearson's claims of worker coercion are nonsense.

Union president Garry Parsloe says there might be one or two workers who take up the company's offer to reapply for jobs.

"My advice is good luck to them - go and grab it if that's what they want. But they're telling me something totally different.

"And if they are being threatened in any way, the police should be brought in. This is an opportune time for them (Ports of Auckland), isn't it, to speculate, put out smoke and mirrors and put this nonsense around. If there's truth in it, go to the police."

Meanwhile, the union is seeking a ruling from the Employment Court on whether port bosses broke the law by sacking the workers while collective negotiations were under way.

Worker wants certainty

One striking Ports of Auckland worker says the dispute is not about money, but certainty of a pay packet.

Cecil Walker has been a crane driver for about 14 years and says he wants a stable income, which he would not have as a contractor. He also wants enough time outside his job to spend with his family.

Mr Walker says he has managed to put money aside for his mortgage but with four children and a wife on maternity leave, his budget is increasingly tight.