Workers to return as pay bargaining resumes

By Mathew Dearnaley

A protest march regarding the Ports of Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring
A protest march regarding the Ports of Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring

Auckland dock workers will start returning to the wharves tomorrow, after six weeks of reduced container operations run by a skeleton non-union stevedoring crew.

That follows an agreement between the port company and the Maritime Union, which intend resuming wage bargaining today, before a Labour Department mediator.

But the previously warring sides, which on Friday struck a truce in their prolonged dispute over failed collective employment negotiations, will begin today's proceedings with a pep talk at the Town Hall from Auckland Mayor Len Brown.

"He wants to have a talk to us," said union president Garry Parsloe of the mayor, who has consistently resisted pressure to intervene in the four-month waterfront dispute through nine strikes, a lockout and an initial refusal by the port company to allow the workers back.

A mayoral spokesman said today's agenda was still being worked out, but indicated that Mr Brown was keen to talk to the parties before they returned to bargaining to emphasise the urgency of reaching a settlement and restoring normalcy to the port.

Mr Parsloe did not clarify how long it would take 235 union members among the company's permanent staff to return to work, but said an agreement was reached on Monday on a process to start on Thursday morning.

The company, which last week refused to allow an immediate return to work from a four-week strike on "health and safety" grounds but relented when faced with Employment Court injunction proceedings, would not discuss what it called a confidential agreement.

It assured the court last week that it would take back permanent staff by Friday at the latest, although it indicated there was not enough work available from reduced ship calls to immediately re-hire casual employees who went on strike.

Although the company's website lists three ships calling this week at the Fergusson container terminal, two others are still due to bypass Auckland and another has had its entire voyage from Melbourne cancelled.

Labour's industrial relations spokeswoman, Darien Fenton, meanwhile intends moving in Parliament today for legislation to be set down for a first reading for council-owned port companies and their subsidiaries to be subjected to official information disclosure laws.

She said her bill would reverse the exclusion of port companies and their subsidiaries from the definition of council-controlled organisations in the 2002 Local Government Act.

Auckland's port dispute had highlighted the need for the companies to be opened to the same scrutiny faced by every other public institution, Ms Fenton said.

- NZ Herald

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