Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Big parties keep distance in port dispute

Ports of Auckland workers have taken  industrial action while little progress has been made to reach agreement on wages and conditions. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ports of Auckland workers have taken industrial action while little progress has been made to reach agreement on wages and conditions. Photo / Dean Purcell

Both National and Labour and even the Act Party are refusing to get off the fence over the ongoing Ports of Auckland industrial dispute, saying it is a matter for management and the Maritime Union to resolve.

The Green Party however, has come out swinging, with industrial relations spokeswoman and former Auckland City councillor Denise Roche accusing management of having a "recalcitrant attitude" which masks an agenda to privatise the port.

Despite the considerable union influence within his party and calls for him to offer support to Maritime Union members, new Labour leader David Shearer has kept quiet on the matter.

Yesterday Labour industrial relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton, who has been spotted on the picket line at the port, said her party was not taking sides in the dispute.

"We've been hoping that the parties will settle this, that they'll find a way through this."

Ms Fenton said Mr Shearer had been in regular touch with both sides, "and he's in contact with me and we're all discussing it regularly".

"Our strong view at this point is it's not helpful for politicians to get involved."

Ms Fenton said she was concerned about the prospect that Ports of Auckland's workforce would be casualised.

"We're trying to be specific about this because it has huge risks, it's not just workers at the port it's got risks to workers across the country."

Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson was not available for comment yesterday but a spokesman said: "The Government is concerned with the situation on the wharf and is monitoring progress."

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges did not want to "enter into the merits" of the dispute but said the longer it dragged on "the more I see it as of long term advantage both to the Port of Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty region".

Act MP John Banks said that as former Auckland City mayor he had been close to Ports of Auckland for many years, "and I know the history".

"I understand where the business has arrived and I'm clearly aware of the objectives of both sides of this industrial battle but it is a matter between the Ports of Auckland and the Maritime Union and I don't think I could add anything that would be useful."

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples last week issued a statement interpreted as backing for port workers. "My thoughts are with the workers and their families," he said.

Dr Sharples said he had written to ministers Steven Joyce and Ms Wilkinson "for assurance that the employment opportunities for the affected workers are on their radar".

Meanwhile, Ms Roche said the port management's "recalcitrant attitude" was not what might otherwise be expected from an employer who was looking to improve productivity.

"A good employer would try to find ways to keep the operation going while you negotiated. But the threat of lockouts and the threat of contracting out is unreasonable behaviour and I believe it breaches the employment laws."

That led her to suspect "there are other agendas operating".

VIEWPOINTS

National
Concerned with the situation on the wharf and is monitoring progress.

Labour
Has been talking to both sides and has a "strong view" that it's not helpful for politicians to get involved.

Greens
Has condemned management's "recalcitrant attitude" as suggesting a hidden agenda to break union influence at the port as a precursor to privatisation.

Act
Says the dispute is a matter for management and the union to work out.

Maori Party
Co-leader Pita Sharples has offered apparent sympathy for the port workers.

NZ First, Mana
Did not respond.

- NZ Herald

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