28 Feb 2012

Port and workers in 'fight to the death'

9:04 am on 28 February 2012

An employment law specialist says Ports of Auckland and the union representing striking port workers are in a fight to the death that will eventually see the company getting rid of the workforce.

More than 300 Maritime Union members are on a three-week-long strike after months of stoppages, failed negotiations and stand-offs over proposed changes to their conditions.

Peter Cullen, of Wellington employment law firm Cullen Law, told Morning Report that this is not a normal industrial dispute where the parties get back together again.

He says the port company is trying to contract out the work on the wharf and it does not appear as though the striking union members will be employed by the contractors.

Mr Cullen says the striking workers should look to the Labour Party for support.

Legal action

Meanwhile, the port is seeking legal advice after a shipping company diverted one of its vessels to Tauranga on Sunday, claiming it had received a blacklisting threat.

Pacific International Lines (PIL) says it was warned its ships would be blacklisted around New Zealand and Australia - meaning union workers would refuse to unload them - if the Kota Permasan docked in Auckland and was serviced by non-unionised stevedores.

The Maritime Union says its branch did not contact the shipping company but an international branch may have given the firm a caution and explained that unloading would be slow as skilled workers were on strike.

Mr Cullen says while the strike is legal, stopping boats from coming into the port is not. However he says legal action is very rare and parties only resort to the courts when disputes become very bitter.