Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Dock workers put a dollar value on claims in dispute

Auckland dock workers are gearing up for another 48-hour strike next week. Photo / Richard Robinson
Auckland dock workers are gearing up for another 48-hour strike next week. Photo / Richard Robinson

Auckland dock workers planning another 48-hour port strike next week have announced claims including a 2.5 per cent rise on an average basic annual wage of about $57,000.

That sum is based on a theoretical 40-hour week, but the port company says double shifts of up to 68 paid hours - for which regulation breaks mean no more than 44.5 hours can be worked - pushed average earnings last year to $91,480.

Yesterday was the first time the Maritime Union has, in an increasingly bitter dispute which it says is about job security rather than wages, put a dollar value on claims for a new collective employment agreement to cover about 300 stevedores.

Ports of Auckland initially offered the same figure with a continuation of existing conditions, but changed its position after the union refused a settlement if it could not win back four cargo shuttle jobs contracted out to truck drivers in 2009.

The council-owned company is now offering a 10 per cent wage rise - from about $27.40 an hour to $30 - for straddle carrier operators in return for a radical new rostering system it says is needed to cut about 35 per cent of "down time" in the port.

The union has disputed the company's figures, pointing to a record productivity rate for August of an average of 28.33 crane movements an hour, and says stevedores would have to work 32 weeks of double shifts to earn $91,000.

In its claims lodged yesterday before a return to mediated talks on Thursday - after the next strike - the union repeated its demand to regain the cargo shuttle jobs subject to interim arrangements it said it was prepared to discuss with the company.

But it also said it would agree to work with the port to investigate changes to improve productivity and rosters over what it suggested should be a six-month settlement period.

The company said it would need to study the union's claims in detail before being able to comment.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has meanwhile responded to a list of questions posed in yesterday's Herald about his handling of the row.

Mr Brown, who has been holidaying on Waiheke, defended not being available for interviews since news of the port's loss of Fonterra export business broke on Wednesday.

"I think it's important to be clear though. As with any industrial dispute, this is not going to be resolved by people playing politics, nor ... by an ongoing debate in the media," he said in a written statement.

Mr Brown said the dispute was entering a "critical period", but he did not see the need to return to Auckland to bring the parties together immediately to settle it. "Both sides ... are very aware of what is at stake. "

He agreed that a functioning port was crucial to his goal of Auckland becoming the world's most liveable city.

"That is the challenge for the port company and the workforce. I believe they are up for that challenge."

- NZ Herald

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