24 Mar 2012

Wharfies still in limbo: no return-to-work date set

6:06 am on 24 March 2012

Auckland port workers remain in limbo on Friday night, with the port company still refusing to say when the wharfies will be allowed back to work.

The Maritime Union and the Council of Trade Unions met with the Ports of Auckland on Friday morning to discuss plans for future mediation and a lockout notice set to take effect early next month.

The company has refused, however, to identify a timeframe for its employees to return to work.

After the parties agreed on Wednesday to resume mediation, union members turned up at the port on Thursday expecting to return to work - but the company wouldn't allow it, so they resumed picketing.

Ports of Auckland representatives told the unions the company could not change its workers' current rosters, which end next Friday.

They reportedly said that if ships are in port at that point, then work could be available. Otherwise, a return-to-work date could be set when the two groups meet next week for mediation.

CTU president Helen Kelly says the unions have filed for an injunction at the Employment Court questioning the legality of the lockout notice.

At next Monday's mediation session, the parties will also discuss whether workers will be paid while negotiations continue.

Threats and intimidation alleged

Earlier, Ports of Auckland chairman Richard Pearson told Morning Report other port staff had been the victims of threats and intimidation.

"The last thing we want is a situation down at that port which would just be a huge health and safety risk."

Ms Kelly said there was no evidence of threats, and the workers just want to get back to their jobs.

Mr Pearson has said the lockout notice is aimed at speeding up a resolution of the industrial dispute.

Adviser to be paid commercial rates

Meanwhile, the body that oversees Ports of Auckland says a lawyer who will advise it on its responsibilities in the dispute will be paid commercial rates.

Alan Galbraith QC was hired on Thursday by Auckland Council Investments Ltd (ACIL), whose chief executive, Gary Swift, says Mr Galbraith will be paid out of the agency's budget.