The Port of Tauranga has labelled union claims of fearful workers an attempt to paint the Tauranga port in a bad light against its Auckland counterpart.
In a front-page story in yesterday's Bay of Plenty Times, the Maritime Union, representing port workers, said casual workers feared they would be overlooked for work if they reported injuries incurred on the job.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns last night said: "Port of Tauranga strongly refutes this and believes that the sources that made these allegations are attempting to discredit comparisons between Ports of Auckland's and Port of Tauranga's productivity achievements.
"The Ports of Auckland dispute (which involves the same union making these allegations against Port of Tauranga) is centred on an attempt by Ports of Auckland to bring their productivity levels up to those achieved at Port of Tauranga. The Union has been maintaining that such comparisons are invalid and that productivity levels achieved at Port of Tauranga are at the expense of health and safety."
Mr Cairns said that the Port of Tauranga's safety record was one of the most impressive among all of New Zealand's ports.
The total number of "lost time injuries" at the Port of Tauranga over the financial year ending March 31, 2011, was less than 20 per cent of those at Ports of Auckland, he said.
But the opposition's spokesperson for Labour, Darien Fenton, said she was concerned at how the "increasing casualisation of New Zealand's workforce was undermining health and safety".
She backed the Maritime Union's claims that Port of Tauranga casual workers were often scared to report accidents or safety concerns, fearing they would be punished with fewer hours of work.
"All workers should be able to speak up about safety concerns and report accidents. If this doesn't happen, the changes necessary to improve safety and reduce our workplace death and injury toll won't happen," Ms Fenton said.
New Zealand's death and injury toll at work was four times greater than comparable countries. Forty-one Kiwis died at work last year and 6000 were seriously injured. In addition, thousands of workers died from occupational disease.