Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Everyone in unionland smells a rat at the port

37 comments
The prospect of contracting resulted in bitterness. Photo / Nigel Marple
The prospect of contracting resulted in bitterness. Photo / Nigel Marple

In two weeks the wharfies union's employment agreement lapses. The term of the document actually expired a year ago, but legally if a new agreement isn't reached then it stays in force, protecting employees' wages and conditions, for another 12 months.

On the 30th of this month union workers will default to individual contracts and then the Ports of Auckland could, according to my sources, restart their failed contracting-out campaign.

Most Aucklanders would have assumed the whole ports lockout earlier this year had been resolved months ago. After all, when the board's bungling resulted in them having to lift the lockout of their workers you'd think they would have learned their lesson.

The board's ideologue, Rob Campbell, spat the dummy and resigned. If the chairman and the chief executive had taken any responsibility for their behaviour they should have resigned as well, except that after the millions of dollars they cost the company they might have discovered no sane entity would have touched them with a barge pole.

The unfortunate fact is we've only had an industrial reprieve because the union agreed to go into good-faith bargaining with the company under the supervision of the Labour Department's chief facilitator.

Despite endless meetings, it's gone nowhere. No self-respecting union would ever willingly agree to contract their members' jobs. However, the union tells me they have met almost every claim by the management to give the port the flexibility they said it needed. The union says there is no reason not to settle and get on with the job. But the company always finds reasons for further delay.

I can only conclude the board is being pushed by other interests and that there has been a deliberate strategy to pretend to negotiate and let the clock run out. If the delays are genuine then the port could merely agree to have their existing union contract roll over until they settle. It speaks volumes that they aren't.

Because the union protections end at the end of the month, the port will be able to employ new staff or contractors on less money and inferior work conditions. This puts us right back into a dispute.

Everyone in unionland smells a rat. When Auckland councillors tried this week to seek accountability from the board, or even request any information, they were given the brush-off. The head of the council-controlled organisation, Gary Swift, said that his board was the port owner, not the council.

He was unable to provide any details of what the port dispute has cost the ratepayers, or even what they've spent on it. Then with a straight face he said he couldn't interfere in the port management and didn't think there was any real problem.

When Rodney Hide set up business boards to run our assets he said the structure would make it more focused on business and accountable for performance. But here's the top bureaucrat saying he can't or won't say whether there was any financial impact on the ports when it was in dispute. Any self-respecting business owner would sack their manager if they gave that reply to a question.

Unfortunately for Swift, an email he had sent to the ports management was read to the council. In part says: "The last thing we need is political interference. If they sense that ACIL is not on top of what's happening they may interfere and it may not go the way we want (the vote 12 to 9 was not a strong endorsement of our position)."

I wonder who he meant by "our position". You can't get any clearer that our well-remunerated bureaucrats treat our democracy with contempt and run their own agendas on our dime.

In two weeks' time they'll be ready to crank up the dispute with the wharfies again in our name and using our resources. We will be expected to sit in the dark and be fed whatever they choose to dish up.

Fellow columnist Rodney Hide wrote a few weeks ago how pleased he was about how things turned out. For his former backers it certainly has.

- Herald on Sunday

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 28 Dec 2014 05:11:36 Processing Time: 507ms