Fallout likely to linger, warn global union leaders

By Mathew Dearnaley

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

Economic fallout is likely to linger for months from Auckland's port dispute - but international union leaders say the effect on New Zealand products could have been immeasurably worse.

Visiting International Transport Federation dockers' division secretary Frank Leys says even without formal bans against Kiwi goods, an enduring stigma would have settled over the New Zealand brand in markets without Friday's truce in the dispute.

Mr Leys, who lives in Britain, said lamb sold in Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury's, "would have branded as black meat".

Mr Leys, who represents 400,000 port workers around the world, added: "We would have talked about your wines in Sweden as having a little smell."

Mr Leys, who came from London to observe the dispute as it headed towards a prolonged lockout of about 300 workers averted only by a threat of Employment Court injunctions, was guarded about the shape of any formal ban.

But he said that as cargo moved around the world, every consignment linked back to Auckland in particular and New Zealand in general, risked being "not treated the right way".

He said the management of the council-owned port company may have "found sense" under persuasion by parties such as Auckland Mayor Len Brown, who he and International Transport Federation president Paddy Crumlin met on Friday.

"Let it be a port that works with organised labour and that we around the world don't have to look at something that comes from the Port of Auckland in a different way."

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly praised Mr Crumlin at a port workers' rally on Thursday for "massive" international support for Maritime Union members, who ended a four-week strike 11 days ago but were faced with being locked out indefinitely.

"The fantastic thing about your union is that they are internationally connected and dockers around the world know an injury to one is an injury to all and they've really come to your aid," she told the workers.

Mr Crumlin, who is also secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, was careful to describe to the Herald action which slowed the discharge in Sydney of containers loaded in Auckland as a "community picket" rather than an illegal secondary strike.

But since that action against a Maersk vessel, cargo has only been discharged at Auckland's container terminals with non-union labour, and ships have not been loaded.

Importers' Institute secretary Daniel Silva says it remains uncertain how fast shipping lines will decide to return to Auckland despite the port company's decision to abandon the lockout to focus on negotiating a new collective employment deal.

"The courts and the law cannot tell the shipping companies where they are going to go because they are running vessels worth hundreds of millions of dollars and every day of delay means they can't stick to their schedules," he said.

"Whether this is going to reassure them that they can send their ships back to Auckland and have them processed in a decent time or not, I think the shipping companies are going to be cautious before they do that."

Mr Silva said before the truce that storage space was running out in Wellington for Auckland-bound cargo diverted there after Tauranga reached saturation point.

With only limited overflow space available after that in the South Island, he feared shipping companies were weeks away from deciding to bypass New Zealand.

He said on Friday night it was disappointing the workers were heading back without abandoning "any of the claims to work 26 hours a week for 40 hours pay."

He was referring to the port company's estimate of average "down-time" between ship calls and said he was sceptical about whether the union would repeat an offer to work 12-hour shifts without pressure of a lockout.

"We hope it [the dispute] will be solved but we haven't seen any shift of attitude that indicates to us that there is any real goodwill, other than just this manufactured goodwill."

THE WEEK AHEAD

* Ports of Auckland to return to mediated negotiations with the Maritime Union, and if those fail, to seek Employment Relations Authority help towards a "facilitated" settlement.

* Workers to be rostered back to the wharves no later than Friday.

- NZ Herald

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