Elation as port reversal clears path to work

By Mathew Dearnaley

Unionists at the Auckland Maritime Club greet the news that the Ports of Auckland lockout is over. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Unionists at the Auckland Maritime Club greet the news that the Ports of Auckland lockout is over. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Deafening cheers followed by text messages home resounded from a meeting yesterday of jubilant Auckland wharfies itching to be back at work within a week.

"You'll all go back to your jobs and until you go back you'll all get paid," Maritime Union president Garry Parsloe told the meeting, after the port company agreed to stop locking out 235 workers in retaliation for a four-week strike.

"Everything we have done has fallen into place, thanks to your solidarity," said Mr Parsloe, who also reported his phone was running hot with congratulatory messages from other unions.

Crane driver James Cooper texted his wife, who replied that after his celebratory beer, "she wants me home to give me a hug".

Veteran wharfie Rob Powley rushed from the meeting to take his wife to dinner, hoping to ease stress from the four-month port dispute, which he blames for leaving her seriously ill.

The Auckland Maritime Club meeting followed an announcement by the port company to the Employment Court of a settlement to allow a return to collective bargaining.

That came after word of the surprise resignation of port director Rob Campbell, a former high-profile unionist who was a prime mover of plans to contract out wharfies' jobs.

Company chairman Richard Pearson said the resignation "resulted from differences in views on board strategies".

The settlement meant Judge Barrie Travis didn't have to hear union applications for injunctions to allow members back to work over the next week, and to lift notice of an indefinite lockout from April 6.

John Haigh, QC, said for the company that it had reflected on its position since the court ordered it to refrain from contracting out plans until mid-May, and "for the benefit of all parties" had decided to focus on a return to collective bargaining.

Port chief executive Tony Gibson, reading from a prepared statement after shaking hands with the unionists at the court, said the company was "acutely aware that its customers and all those in the supply chain are severely affected by this dispute".

"Ports of Auckland is lifting the lockout to get goods moving."

But he said the company had not changed its determination to create "a modern and efficient port".

"We're going back to the bargaining table with a fresh determination to talk to [the union] and get the collective this port needs to operate competitively," he said.

Mr Gibson also said extending the company's right to contract out work into a new collective agreement "remains our bottom line". That prompted a statement from Mr Parsloe, who called the comment "inflammatory and not helpful".

He said the ports, which were among Aucklanders' most important assets, had always been productive "and can be more so".

"We are committed to delivering for the public an effective and even more successful Ports of Auckland."

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly called the outcome "a win for all three sides" - the workers, the people of Auckland and the port.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown, who yesterday received a delegation of International Transport Federation leaders from Australia and London with serious concerns about the dispute, said he'd work with both sides to ensure good faith negotiations.

He also said he would not tolerate threats to any member of his council or their families from an "extremist group" which he had been assured had nothing to do with the union.

He was referring to complaints by Sir John Walker and Calum Penrose of telephone threats from veteran protester Marx Jones, who told the Herald his purpose was to warn of a lawsuit against any councillors who voted for the wharfies to be sacked.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 02 Oct 2014 01:43:45 Processing Time: 619ms