Safety and a secure family life are top concerns for the workers on strike outside Ports of Auckland's container terminal.

Around 50 people, including Maritime Union workers and their families, held up signs along Tamaki Drive earlier today, drawing a steady stream of honks from passing cars.

"We've been getting good support from the public," says National Vice President Carl Findlay. "I think they all understand there's got to be a balance in this life."

The workers are fighting to protect health and safety standards and steady working hours, which they said are under threat from the changes proposed by port boss Tony Gibson.

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"We all work in eight and a half hour shifts. That's what the port's trying to remove. They're trying to get us onto variable hours, where you could be working anywhere from five to twelve hours.

"It'll give you no life, because you'd just be living by the telephone. How can you plan your life around variable hours? You just can't."

One dock worker named Tamati, who did not want his full name released, has been working at the port for nearly seven years. He said the stress of variable hours would tear families apart.

"It already happens now because that's the life of a shift worker - everybody understands that. And they're just making it worse. They're creating a monster and they've got no way of fixing it. I don't think they even care about that."

The changes Ports of Auckland want to enact are too radical for the workers, who are "not greedy at all".

"We do our job and we do it really well. It takes a lot of patience and control to discharge and load a ship with all that stuff. We really care about it because it's crucial to everybody in New Zealand."

An older worker named Stewart, with the company for 35 years, said driving a heavy-duty fork lift truck for a twelve-hour shift is too dangerous: "You get people falling asleep at the wheel."

"I went to [occupational health and safety] years ago and complained about these long extended driving hours," he said. "They said they can't do anything until a fatality happens. You mean to tell me somebody's got to die before OSH can do anything about this?"

The port company is being greedy and very unfair to workers who have "bent over backwards" for them, he said.

"[The workers] have livelihoods, they have mortgages, they have bills, they have young kids. It's disgusting - the company is disgusting, doing what they're doing."

Mr Findlay said Mayor Len Brown's call for greater flexibility from the workers to increase productivity is unwarranted.

"We are productive. In the last eight months I've had productivity bonuses, even in the month of December when we went on strike for seven or eight days and got locked out.

"We've never said that can't improve. Everything can improve. We've actually offered in our talks to sit down and go into committees... and go through all those issues with the port company. But that wasn't enough for them."

- HERALD ONLINE