Port company faces $11.5m payout

By Mathew Dearnaley

Ports of Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Ports of Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Auckland's council-owned port company faces an $11.5 million redundancy payout and weeks of disruption after a decision yesterday to fire almost 300 workers, including hundreds of strikers, and replace them with contractors.

The Maritime Union believes the Ports of Auckland will be unable to get its 235 members currently on strike back to work during a six-week notice period of redundancy.

The port also expects to spend about $11.5 million in redundancy payments to 292 sacked employees, many of whom have more than a decade of service - but says the money will be well spent.

Chairman Richard Pearson said he was looking forward to productivity improvements from greater flexibility resisted by the union, and said the port would be back to normal "10 weeks from now", when employees of three new prospective stevedoring operations are up to speed.

But union president Garry Parsloe predicted great difficulties for the port company in recruiting new workers, despite internet advertising.

"They have kicked all of us out the door - a competent, qualified, trained-up workforce that [port company chief executive] Tony Gibson thinks are going to all run back in there and work for half the money," he said.

He denied a claim by Mr Pearson that the union was recommending its members not reapply for waterfront jobs, but asked why any would want to work for people who were advertising their jobs while still negotiating a new collective agreement.

"The CEO of that port is absolutely loathed by that workforce, he has ruined their lives - why would you want to work for a person like that?"

Mr Pearson believed the union would ultimately "realise they have made a huge mistake" and tell its members that competitive stevedoring operations, such as seen in the Port of Tauranga, were inevitable and they should have a chance to work for them.

He said it would be up to contractors how much they would earn, but pay levels in Tauranga were "no different than here".

Mr Parsloe invited Aucklanders wanting to retain "a sustainable port" to a rally at Britomart on Saturday.

They will be joined by American and Australian unionists, who have warned of possible overseas action against ships unloaded in Auckland by non-union labour.

Ships have already been held up in Tauranga and Wellington, although the Port of Lyttelton last night won a pre-emptive court injunction to prevent delays there.

Labour leader David Shearer said the council should step up efforts to help to resolve "a hugely damaging dispute" and Green co-leader Russel Norman described the port's actions as appalling. The council and Auckland Mayor Len Brown had "sat on their hands" for too long.

But Mr Brown said his hands were tied by legislation and it would be "absolutely inappropriate for me to jump into disputes or run the port out of the mayor's office."

Council transport chairman Mike Lee said time would tell whether the port company's focus on "dealing to its workforce", rather than negotiating better prices from shipping companies would significantly lower costs.

Cost so far

One lockout and seven strikes, including current stoppage into its 13th day

About $8m in lost revenue to the council-owned port

Major disruption to importers and exporters

Delays to ships in Auckland, Tauranga and Wellington

THE COST TO COME

Up to 292 job losses, although workers are encouraged to apply for positions with stevedoring contractors

Up to six more weeks of strike action to match their redundancy notice period starting tomorrow

$11.5m in redundancy payments

- NZ Herald

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