Port-row union extends strike

By Mathew Dearnaley

Ports of Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Ports of Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Auckland port workers have hit back at plans to sack them and contract out their jobs, with yet more industrial action - and a legal challenge.

The Maritime Union yesterday slapped a notice on Ports of Auckland aimed at extending a strike by 235 of its members by 14 more days, to six weeks.

That followed an application to the Employment Court to declare a decision on Wednesday by the council-owned company to contract out 292 mainly stevedoring jobs as invalid and a subversion of negotiations for a new collective employment agreement.

Union president Garry Parsloe said last night that the extra strike notice was to protect his members' legal position, so the company could not start employing contract labour alongside them if they returned to work.

He said when union leaders spoke to the workers after the decision to make them redundant, "the hatred that came from it demanded we up the ante of strike".

That was shared by the public from whom donations were "pouring in" on top of "hundreds of thousands of dollars" from other unions.

He said nobody wanted to do anything for company chief executive Tony Gibson, and his members would go back to work only with a collective agreement to protect their conditions.

But port company chairman Richard Pearson said the union should focus on its members' future.

That meant "engaging constructively" with the redundancy process, for which a six-week consultation period will start today, and allowing its members to make their own decisions..

A company spokeswoman said once the period was up, severance notices of at least two more weeks would be issued to the workers, who will be entitled to $11.5 million worth of redundancy payouts and chances to apply for jobs with new stevedoring contractors.

Mr Pearson said the company would soon name three new operators, all New Zealand companies.

Leading industrial lawyer Peter Cullen would not comment on the strength of the union's argument without knowing more about it but said it was to be expected that it would fight for its members' job by whatever means.

He did not believe many union members would end up working for new contractors, saying the relationship between the port and its employees had become "incredibly embittered and it looks like the port wants a fresh start with a new workforce".

Although Auckland Mayor Len Brown continued keeping his distance from the dispute yesterday, council accountability and performance committee chairman Richard Northey said he believed it was still "eminently possible" for a collective agreement to be reached.

LATEST MOVE

* The Maritime Union has slapped a notice on Ports of Auckland that is aimed at extending a strike by 235 of its members by 14 more days, to six weeks.

* This follows an application to the Employment Court to declare as invalid a decision to contract out 292 mainly stevedoring jobs.

* A six-week consultation period for the redundancy process will start today.

* Workers will be entitled to $11.5 million in redundancy payouts and chances to apply for jobs with new stevedoring contractors.

- NZ Herald

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