Unions quiet on port boss' comments

By Patrick O' Sullivan

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Napier Port unions have declined to respond to comments from their chief executive that the Ports of Auckland dispute is likely to flare up with "major ramifications" locally.

Ports of Auckland and the Maritime Union of New Zealand (Munz) have been locked in an industrial dispute for 16 months. Negotiations on a new collective contract started in August 2011, but deteriorated into a series of strikes, lockouts and moves by the company to replace about 300 union workers with private contractors. The parties are currently undergoing a formal facilitation process.

At a recent Institute of Directors meeting Napier Port chief executive Garth Cowie said if the Ports of Auckland was successful it would make the Maritime Union "vehement" that they won't lose any other port to similar approaches and initiatives.

"The other side is if Munz wins and Ports of Auckland lose then we are in a worse situation. The potential is some of the things we have fought for and got would be taken away from us potentially in the long term.

"So in that sense if Auckland are successful that will be very helpful - it will set a new benchmark.

Tauranga will have to step up again and that means all regional ports will have to step up, ourselves included. But we are anticipating and planning to do that anyway."

Last week the Employment Relations Authority ruled Ports of Auckland broke the law in February and March when they employed an engineer from overseas at a cost of $10,000 a week to do the work of striking maritime union members.

It also illegally used local contractors to carry out engineering work.

The port was fined $40,000.

In Napier the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMTU) has 100 members employed by Napier port. Branch secretary Dave Marden said membership was "95 per cent density on the coal face".

RMTU General Secretary Wayne Butson said he would not respond to Mr Cowie's comments but said all parties were making "strategic plans for what will arise out of the finalisation of the Ports of Auckland dispute".

"Time will tell if we are better or worse off as a result of any outcome," he said.

MUNZ Napier secretary Bill Connelly told Hawke'sBay Today the union's main collective agreement was with Southern Cross Stevedores and the union had a very good relationship with Napier Port.

"But if Mr Cowie keeps making comments like that they won't be," he said.

"Port of Napier backs Auckland 100 per cent. If the Port of Auckland starts contracting out then that will be the norm throughout the country and you will have no permanent work forces in the port at all - it will be all casual.

"That will be a sad day."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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