23 Mar 2012

Port keeping workers out for fear of abuse

8:35 am on 23 March 2012

The Ports of Auckland says it is not letting striking waterfront workers back on the wharves right away because it fears other workers will be abused.

It also says it does not have work organised for the workers who have been on strike.


The port company and the Maritime Union have agreed to return to mediation talks following a hearing this week with an Employment Court judge.

The company has suspended for four weeks its plan to make about 300 union workers redundant, in order to make one last attempt at mediation.

The workers voted at a meeting at midday on Thursday to go to work, and marched to the the port.

However the company said the unionised workers would return only on its conditions, and issued a new lockout notice that will come into effect in two weeks.

The union says it will challenge the legality of the lockout. It says its members should be allowed to return to work while the agreed mediation takes place.

Ports of Auckland chairman, Richard Pearson, says it is within its rights to issue a lockout notice.

"What we are doing is putting in a lockout notice in the hope that it will bring this dispute to a speedy resolution.

"Mediation on one hand and the strike lockout on the other are completely separate under the employment law."

Contracting out

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Pearson told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme that the company was entering negotiations with an open mind but still believes contracting out the workers' jobs would be the best option.

"We've said that we haven't changed our view of the benefits of contracting out, that that was the right decision for the future of the port."

Maritime Union president Garry Parsloe told the programme the union is happy to be going back into negotiations, and wants those who have been doing the job to continue doing the work, with a collective agreement and some form of security.

The port company chairman but denied the decision to resume mediation was a U-turn, having last week said collective negotiations were over.

"You can call it a route deviation if you have to, but that is the way we're going forward now," he said.

Importers' group welcomes mediation

Importers Institute secretary Daniel Silva says the port's decision on mediation is a good thing in the short term, if it brings and end to the disruption of the past four weeks.

"In the medium- to long-term we hope that the port will persevere with their intention to contract out the work."

An Auckland University industrial relations professor and former Ports of Auckland board member, Nigel Haworth, is questioning whether the company is breaking employment laws by suggesting contracting out is still the best option.

Mr Haworth told Nine to Noon the law requires the port company to bargain in good faith, which it does not appear to be doing.

Council of Trade Unions (CTU) president Helen Kelly says the comments go against the serious undertakings made to put a halt on redundancies.

She says if the bargaining talks are not held in good faith, the union will have to consider further strike action.

The CTU and the Green Party have said the company is re-entering talks because it is unsure about the legality of the redundancies - but port chairman Richard Pearson says it is taking the action because it is the responsible thing to do.