Wharfies vote unanimously in favour of partial strike

By Michael Dickison

Ports of Auckland to downtown Auckland City. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Ports of Auckland to downtown Auckland City. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Three hundred strong hands rose to a call for another round of industrial action at the Ports of Auckland.

The port workers were gathered yesterday at the Maritime Club, in Anzac Ave, in what one wharfie said felt like a last stand for organised labour - and the idea that workers could ask for a decent lifestyle.

But criticism from the employers at the port continues, with bosses calling the Maritime Union's views outdated, irrelevant to the commercial environment and lacking in urgency.

The wharfies voted unanimously in favour of a partial strike, the sixth since employment talks began in September.

For a week from February 15, the workers will refuse to work with contractors brought in last year to replace four unionised shuttle drivers.

The union's national president, Garry Parsloe, said the aim of the action was to get negotiations restarted.

"We should be back in mediation," Mr Parsloe said. "It's gone on too long."

The port, unable to get the union to agree to a changed rostering system, recently suggested that all workers could be made redundant and replaced with contractors.

Some workers were described as being panicked about the prospect of losing their jobs or being subjected to extreme shiftwork.

"They're dealing with the uncertainty, the not knowing. It's terrible," said stevedore Grant Williams.

Management want to break up the eight-hour shifts that lead to hours of downtime.

Mr Williams said the workers were willing to make changes, but the existing collective agreement - a document built up over decades of negotiations - needed to be the starting point.

It represented standing up for decent conditions, he said.

The waterfront felt like the last bastion for workers' rights.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the waterfront dispute was a flashpoint in a broader movement towards casualisation.

"The deal about work is you go to work and you earn a wage that pays your rent, buys food, buys power and allows you to sustain a decent life."

Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson disputed the union's claims that it had asked for further mediated negotiations.

"I'm not sure it's miscommunication. I think it's misleading," Mr Gibson said. "They haven't asked us or the Labour Department."

He said that after 90 hours of negotiations the union had yet to officially respond to the port's latest offer.

- NZ Herald

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