Auckland Mayor Len Brown is bringing in a high-powered lawyer, Alan Galbraith, QC, to keep tabs on legal moves in the bitter dispute on the wharves and to protect the council's 100 per cent shareholding in the port.
Mr Galbraith's appointment came after the port company served an official lockout notice to union workers, just before a vote to end their ninth strike since November.
The 14-day notice of an "indefinite" lockout was issued a day after the company said it would suspend plans to sack 292 workers and resume talks on a collective contract at the port.
The appointment of Mr Galbraith is a sign that Mr Brown is not happy with the legal tactics of the port company and is worried about the economic impact of the port dispute on the Auckland economy and this year's projected dividend of $18 million to the council.
"The two sides need to get into mediation and get this sorted out," he said yesterday.
"The court has put forward a process and I expect both sides to abide by that process."
These are the sternest words yet to the parties from Mr Brown, whose traditional supporters on the left have criticised him for not getting involved in the dispute.
The port company has put the one-off revenue loss from the strikes and the looming month-long mediation period at $12.7 million, plus about $25 million annually from the loss of the Maersk and Fonterra business which has been taken to other ports.
Auckland councillor Mike Lee said Mr Brown needed to step in.
Mr Lee, who oversaw the port company as chairman of the former Auckland Regional Council, said there was a great deal of provocation coming from port chairman Richard Pearson who was sounding "more and more like a country club snob and completely out of touch with the New Zealanders who make up his workforce".
Meanwhile, two British workers who arrived at Auckland Airport without work permits to advise on the ports dispute were refused entry last week and put on a flight home.
Both men worked for Drake International and arrived to work on contract for Ports of Auckland.
Drake New Zealand is one of two companies appointed by the port company on March 9 to hire contract workers for the port.
The second company was AWF Group.
WHO'S IN CHARGE?
* Auckland Council owns 100 per cent of Ports of Auckland.
* The port is overseen by the council through a council-controlled body, Auckland Council Investments Ltd (ACIL).
* ACIL sets the objectives and goals for the port, which are approved by the council.
* There is nothing to stop Mayor Len Brown from stepping into the dispute.
* Mr Brown wants both sides to reach a collective agreement, but is not taking sides.
* Mr Brown has been criticised by the left and praised by the right for his hands-off approach.