Auckland university students and politicians have joined wharfies protesting a "disturbing" move to lock them out of Ports of Auckland.
Ports workers were served an official lockout notice from Ports of Auckland management this morning, just hours before a vote to end lengthy strike action.
It was issued a day after the company announced it would stop plans to make 292 striking workers redundant and resume mediation on a collective contract at the port.
The indefinite lockout is set to start in 14 days, with contracted workers continuing to unload vessels until the lockout commences - as had been the case during the strike action.
Workers immediately took to Auckland streets after the notice was served, amid claims by close observers that the port company's chairman, Richard Pearson, is running the port's strategy and is "out of control".
They have been joined on a waterfront picket line by about 60 Auckland University students.
Maritime Union president Garry Parsloe said shocked workers were protesting an "unlawful" attempt to stop them returning to their jobs.
The ports company is legally obliged to allow wharfies to go to work before the lockout starts in two weeks, he said.
"Ports workers are ready to go back to work and get this port moving again for Auckland.
"It is deeply disturbing that the company's vision is so blurred on this dispute, that they now want to stop the port functioning."
"Governance at the Ports of Auckland is out of control. It's time for the mayor and councils to step in and sack this board, and replace them with a group who are willing to run this important asset properly for the benefit of Auckland."
Ports of Auckland board chairman Richard Pearson said the lockout was aimed at maintaining an existing right to move to competitive stevedoring system.
"This existing right will be fundamental to the upcoming mediation. We have today written to the Mediation Service to seek an urgent start to mediation discussions. "
Mr Pearson this morning said the company would return to mediation with the union in good faith.
But he also said that in the port's view, the existing right to contract out must remain.
"This existing right will be fundamental to the upcoming mediation.''
"We have today written to the Mediation Service to seek an urgent start to mediation discussions.
Labour Party employment issues spokeswoman Darien Fenton said any good faith bargaining was impossible with a lockout notice looming.
"That action is in defiance of an agreement reached just yesterday with the Employment Court that good faith negotiations would resume with the Maritime Union.
"This dispute is not only costing the ports workers and families, but Auckland ratepayers and businesses as well. If these people want to work, then they should be allowed to."
Meanwhile, Auckland Chamber of Commerce head Michael Barnett said that whatever happened now, the future of the Auckland port lay with competitive stevedoring.
"A work environment in which a union can hold New Zealand to ransom no longer has any place," he said in a statement. "The port company has learned that it needs to lift its game to world champion levels. The Maritime Union and its members need to understand that they must too."