New Zealand's national union movement is calling for volunteers to help build public opposition to the Auckland port company's plan to contract out waterfront work.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly says the unions are preparing a campaign of advertising and widespread public activities to tell Aucklanders their side of the bitter labour dispute which has sparked five strikes since November.

A sixth strike, which had been planned for 24 hours on January 31, was called off last night after the company agreed to let the Maritime Union hold a paid stopwork meeting instead for up to four hours from 7am on that day.

But unions expect to give notice of another strike if the company goes ahead with its plan to contract out the work now done by union members to private stevedoring companies.


It will detail the plan to the union at a first formal "consultation" meeting at 9am tomorrow.

Ms Kelly, who has moved into the Maritime Union's Auckland office, said the unions were drafting newsletters for supporters and a leaflet to be handed out to port users.

"We will be spending money to make sure people understand what the dispute is about and calling for volunteers to do stuff like leafleting, fundraising, joining the picket, attending public meetings, social networks, talking to their neighbours," she said.

"This is about the fundamentals of decent work - whether you know you have a guaranteed amount of work a week or month."

Maritime Union president Garry Parsloe, who also chairs the Councils of Trade Unions for Auckland, Northland and Tauranga, said the unions would spend "many thousands of dollars" on the campaign.

He will chair a meeting of Auckland unions this afternoon and a public meeting will be held at the Auckland Trades Hall at 7.30 tonight.

The Labour Party, which earlier declined to take sides in the dispute, issued a statement through shadow transport minister Phil Twyford yesterday condemning contracting out as "a form of privatisation".

"I don't think that this union-busting that we are seeing in the port is an acceptable way to squeeze out a few extra points of productivity," Mr Twyford said.


Ms Kelly met Mr Twyford on Tuesday and is trying to meet National MPs including Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye.

She also met the Employers and Manufacturers Association on Tuesday at its request.

EMA spokesman Gilbert Peterson said the association was keen to see the dispute settled but did not have any plans to get more involved.

Meanwhile the Maritime Union (MUNZ) has gone to court alleging that the company breached its obligation to bargain in good faith by offering more money to workers who left the union.

Port company spokeswoman Catherine Etheredge said the company would lodge a counter-claim alleging, among other things, that a placard claiming pay rates were as low as $13 an hour was untrue.

"Our preference all along has been to get a collective agreement. We have been in discussions with MUNZ since March, have made nine offers, and our best and final offer remains on the table."