Search for non-union wharfies is delayed

By Mathew Dearnaley

Supporters of the Maritime Union striking outside the Ports of Auckland. Photo / Janna Dixon
Supporters of the Maritime Union striking outside the Ports of Auckland. Photo / Janna Dixon

Efforts to recruit a replacement workforce for Auckland's strike-ridden port have been delayed for at least two more days by a legal challenge from the Maritime Union.

So have other moves by the council-owned port company to make 235 striking union members redundant, to be replaced by employees of up to three new stevedoring operators.

A "judicial settlement conference" held in private before the Employment Court yesterday ended with an agreement by Ports of Auckland to extend until Thursday a commitment it made last week to Judge Barrie Travis not to hire new workers in the meantime.

That is when Judge Travis said, in a brief minute issued after yesterday's session, that the court will "if necessary" hear an interim injunction application from the union.

The union is seeking the injunction as a holding action while asking the court to declare unlawful the company's plans to dismiss its members, who have been on strike for more than three weeks and are among 292 port staff facing redundancy next month.

A five-day hearing for the union's case is scheduled for next week.

Neither the union nor the company is commenting on the legal action, given what the judge said was a reminder to those at yesterday's session that all matters discussed at it must remain confidential.

That includes anything more than speculation on whether any form of settlement in the bitter dispute may be possible before Thursday's hearing, given his "if necessary" qualification.

But Importers' Institute secretary Daniel Silva, whose members are spending millions of dollars railing freight to Auckland from other ports, said on Friday that the company had told him the court action did not stop the clock on a six-week redundancy "consultation" period.

Union members were visited on their picket outside the Fergusson container terminal yesterday by staff of the Oceania chain of retirement homes and hospitals, who have been striking for a new collective employment agreement.

Other visitors to the picket have included members of Canterbury Bulldogs rugby league side from Sydney, Anglican Maori Bishop Muru Walters and stevedoring unionists from the United States and Australia.

A ship believed to be the sixth or seventh to visit the Fergusson terminal during the strike is expected to arrive today, to be unloaded by up to 50 non-union staff and managers, as are two more due before the end of this week. But at least five others are expected to bypass the terminal for Tauranga, Wellington or Lyttelton, from where containers will be railed back to Auckland at a big cost to importers.

- NZ Herald

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