Ports of Auckland has responded with a lock-out notice after it received a strike notice from the Maritime Union of New Zealand, which says it will down tools for two 24-hour periods early next month.

Company chief executive Tony Gibson described the move as "highly disappointing" and has this afternoon issued a lock-out notice in a bid to halt the strike.

"This decision is one which has been made with sincere regret, but is considered crucial to encouraging union members to withdraw the proposed strike and settle a new collective agreement, thereby avoiding further industrial action," said Gibson.

The proposed strike will affect the Fergusson and Bledisloe container terminals and associated road and rail services at the Waitemata seaport for two 24 hour periods:

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- From 10.30 pm on Thursday 1 December until 10.30 pm on Friday December 2.

- From 10.30 pm on Sunday December 4 until 10.30 pm on Monday December 5.

The lock-out notice takes effect at 12.01am on Saturday, December 3 until 10.30pm on Sunday, December 4.

"Regrettably, we can't recall a single bargaining round in the last 15 years where MUNZ hasn't taken some kind of industrial action," said Gibson.

"This year, by offering to work collaboratively with the union and staff, we attempted to break the cycle and avoid a repeat of the historic disruptive pattern. We have acted in good faith and have been focused on achieving a fair and appropriate settlement. It is hugely disappointing that MUNZ seem determined to go down this path." he said.

Gibson said the company's most recent offer to the union involved rolling over the expired collective employment agreement with no changes to terms and conditions, a $200 signing payment to recognise backpay and a 2.5 per cent increase to hourly rates, in line with inflation.

"In recent months we have seen a willingness across the organisation to work together to achieve further improvements. We respect and care for our workforce and recognise that significant productivity gains have already been achieved."

The proposed action involves 327 employees out of a total of 580, will not affect the company's multi-cargo wharves, cruise business, vehicle import trade, marine services, Onehunga seaport and Wiri Inland Port are not affected by the proposed strike.

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Gibson said at least four ships may be forced to divert to other ports or miss Auckland from their shipping schedule entirely. The revenue impact of the strike to the company would be around $1.6m.

"The run-up to Christmas is a particularly busy time for us. This strike action will be hugely disruptive and costly, and will have a very negative effect on local exporters, importers and ultimately consumers."

The union and company have been talking about the collective contract since August this year. The contract expired on September 30.

- NZ HERALD ONLINE