Auckland businesses are bracing for a fifth industrial stoppage at the city's docks despite Fonterra's decision to seek "certainty of supply" for its global customers through other ports.
The Maritime Union yesterday reaffirmed its plan for a 48-hour strike next week by about 300 workers unless Ports of Auckland stops using contractors to shuttle cargo between its two container terminals.
Despite rising concern among business leaders about damage to the city's commercial reputation, the workers still intend marching off the job at 11pm on Monday, as they have four times since early December, including on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.
Union local and national president Garry Parsloe said yesterday that he was prepared to return to talks chaired by a Labour Department mediator, but the company was refusing to do so before the strike ended.
Ports chief executive Tony Gibson said earlier that there had been little point in holding talks since the company made a "final offer" last month of a 10 per cent pay rise and up to 20 per cent on bonuses in return for a radical new rostering system,
He said it was still waiting for the union to respond to the offer.
Even so, the two sides are expected to get back to the table next Thursday.
Minister of Economic Development Steven Joyce said the Government was monitoring developments in the dispute closely but had not been approached by either side to intervene.
He said New Zealand ports operated in a very competitive environment and it was therefore important for all stakeholders in Auckland's waterfront to work to resolve the dispute.
Fonterra, meanwhile, is preparing to send all exports normally shipped from Auckland through the ports of Tauranga and Napier from the end of this month "until further notice".
"The co-operative made this decision to ensure certainty of supply for its international customers," the company said yesterday.
Although a spokesman said the decision would remain under review, meaning Fonterra may decide to return to Auckland if industrial harmony could be achieved, the two alternative ports indicated they would to their best to keep the new business.
Fonterra exports are worth $5 million a year to Auckland's fully council-owned port, which also blamed the union on its loss of $20 million from the transfer of about 33 per cent of Maersk ships to Tauranga.
The union denies that, saying the Maersk transfer would have taken months to arrange, although it is understood the industrial dispute allowed the Danish shipping giant to get out of a 90-day notice clause.