Unions join forces to support ousted port workers

By Jeremy Olds

Striking Ports of Auckland workers, with their families in support, on the picket line outside the entrance to the port earlier this year. Photo / Natalie Slade
Striking Ports of Auckland workers, with their families in support, on the picket line outside the entrance to the port earlier this year. Photo / Natalie Slade

Firefighters, teachers and nurses' representatives will join striking Auckland port workers tomorrow, in a rally against what they describe as "vicious employers''.

Auckland local president of the NZ Professional Firefighters Union Mike McEnaney said firefighters from as far south as Christchurch will join port workers at a public rally, held at Britomart in downtown Auckland at 4pm.

Representatives from the New Zealand Educational Institute and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation will also attend the rally.

"We want to just show them some support and show that we appreciate there is another group of workers out there that understand what they're going through,'' said Mr McEnaney.

The rally will feature speeches from port workers, community leaders and international union supporters, and will end with a 2km march to Teal Park in Mechanics Bay.

"We are sending a message to vicious employers in general that there are people that will stand up to this sort of rubbish,'' he said.

Mr McEnaney said the dispute was similar to a conflict firefighters fought in 1996, when negotiations with the Fire Service over contracts led to court action.

"It's not a very nice position to be in.

"This is not about fire fighters, though we're well aware the same thing could inevitably be happening to us. Tomorrow's support is for the port workers and their families.

"You've got to question the true fairness about it.''

National secretary of the New Zealand Public Services Association Richard Wagstaff said the support of the union movement comes as no surprise considering the ``extremely aggressive'' actions of the Ports of Auckland.

"We want people everywhere to understand that this issue is much bigger than the port - it's an issue for every worker.''

Mr Wagstaff said the port has been unbalanced and uncompromising in their negotiations with port workers.

"If the Ports of Auckland are successful, it will no doubt encourage other employers to think that kind of bargaining style is appropriate.

"[The workers] deserve all the support they can get.''

Ports of Auckland communications advisor Anne-Marie Petersen had no comment on tomorrow's rally.

The Maritime Union told the Ports of Auckland this week that it planned on extending the 235 member strike by 14 more days, to six weeks.

This follows the port's decision on Wednesday to make redundant almost 300 workers, including hundreds of strikers, and replace them with contractors.

The Union has made an application to the Employment Court, asking for a ruling on the port's decision.

A six-week consultation period for the redundancy process starts today.

- APNZ

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