Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Mayor gives striking port union the message

Auckland mayor Len Brown says he's not in the pocket of the union. Photo / Natalie Slade
Auckland mayor Len Brown says he's not in the pocket of the union. Photo / Natalie Slade

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has issued an ultimatum to the Maritime Union in the bitter industrial dispute on the city's wharves, saying there must be more flexibility in work practices to make the port more productive and profitable for the council.

In his first interview since news of the port's loss of Fonterra export business broke last Wednesday, Mr Brown said he expected the stoush between Ports of Auckland and the union to be resolved soon.

"I would encourage them to do everything they can as loyal Aucklanders to resolve this issue without any further unnecessary time wasting," he said.

Mr Brown - a member of the Labour Party who received a $2000 donation from the Maritime Union towards his 2010 election campaign - yesterday said the board and management of the 100 per cent council-owned port company had his full confidence but he refused to express confidence in the union, which he was not responsible for.

Mr Brown said the donation did not mean he was in the pocket of the union.

In a sign that he is standing up to the union, which is set to strike again tomorrow for 48 hours, Mr Brown said it was time to review some of the decades-long work practices to reflect the increasing and changing trends of the international shipping market.

That was necessary, he said, for the ports company to double its dividend to the council froma 6 per cent rate of return to 12 per cent over five years.

Maritime Union president Garry Parsloe said the union had offered to investigate changes to improve productivity, which reached record levels last year and resulted in ports chief executive Tony Gibson shouting staff barbecues and giving bonuses.

With the warring parties set down for a fresh round of mediation on Thursday, Mr Gibson said the union's latest claim fell well short of what was needed to run a first-class port.

Mr Brown defended not coming back from holidaying on Waiheke Island and not talking to the media last week, saying nothing would be resolved by people playing politics or a debate in the media. He said he had been in regular contact with the ports company and the union to encourage the parties to come to a resolution without compromising their ultimate responsibility to resolve the dispute.

Mr Brown dismissed calls from members of the right-leaning Citizens & Ratepayers councillors for partial privatisation of the council-owned ports company, saying it was a critical piece of infrastructure which he had a very clear mandate to keep in public ownership.

He said a debate on ownership of the port company was one for an election campaign and had no plans at this stage to change his position.

C&R councillors Christine Fletcher and George Wood have suggested a partial sale of the ports company along the same lines as the National Government's "mixed ownership" model.

- NZ Herald

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