The Ports of Auckland chief executive and his directors have started the final phase of the war they've been planning for a long time. They want to sack their workforce and replace them with cheap casual labour. Like any self-respecting Kiwis with spines, they told their executioners to shove it and have hit the picket lines indefinitely.

This dispute isn't about the privileges of the wharfies. Their negotiators have already agreed with just about every claim the boss has demanded. Their main request is that they keep a third of their jobs full-time and get a 2.5 per cent wage increase.

Their boss will never agree. That's because the real agenda is about readying the port for privatisation. To facilitate that, they need to slash costs and provide a cheap, compliant workforce. The union stands in their way and must be destroyed.

Interestingly, as we are watching a stereotyped dispute of reasonably well-paid, male, blue-collar workers battling their powerful bosses, another battlefront is being opened this Thursday on the other side of the gender and pay equation..


About 1500 low-paid caregivers and nurses country-wide, who are union members, will walk off their jobs in rest homes in the first phase of a battle against Oceania, the Australian-based biggest rest home owner in New Zealand.

After months of fruitless negotiations for a modest cost of living increase of 3 per cent, Oceania demands they accept a miserable 1 per cent increase over three years. But even that insulting offer is conditional on these workers giving up their present overtime rates.

If you have a family member or a friend in a rest home, you know that these caregivers love their work and their patients. No one can accuse them of short hours and high pay.

Many of these workers have cared for their patients for decades. They are family. For them to walk off their jobs means things must have got to breaking point.

These workers are almost all women. Many are on $13.61 an hour - 11 cents above the new minimum wage rate.

These saints care for our most vulnerable. They wipe bums, give out medications, cook the meals, wash and clean. They deal with dementia, incontinence and the loneliness of their patients. We place our precious grannies and granddads with them and get on with our lives.

But even the most penny-pinching of us should accept that if we put our family in a rest home, the least we can do is make sure the people to whom we entrust their happiness are paid a little more than a 16-year-old burger flipper.

Oceania doesn't even pretend it can't pay its workers a better wage.


It owns 59 rest homes nationally. Its ultimate owner owns Polish shipyards and French wind farms.

I'm told its parent company went on a buying spree: it seems the rest home workers in this country are expected to pay for it.

Fortunately, these caregivers may have powerful allies. The rest home residents themselves are getting out of their beds and taking to their wheelchairs and walking sticks to join the workers on the picket line.

So whether it's wharfies or caregivers putting themselves on the line, they fight for all New Zealanders.

You either support Kiwis battling for secure jobs and a living wage or you side with chief executives and their shareholders who want more and more passive wealth.

If you are on the side of the Kiwi battler and you see a group huddled outside a rest home on Thursday, give them a toot. And if you're in downtown Auckland visit the workers' camp a couple of kilometres to the right of the Ferry Building.


With massive support from other Kiwis, these workers can win.

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