Auckland's waterfront dispute has spread to other ports and a visiting American unionist yesterday described it as an "international incident".

"There's huge international support - I mean this is an international incident at this point," said International Longshore and Warehouse Union vice-president Ray Familathe, as 300 Auckland port workers reached the 10th day of a four-week strike.

"It has gone beyond reason, the management seems to be on a destructive path here, which just seems to have no common sense about achieving some balance in the collective agreement between management and labour."

As he addressed a meeting of the strike workers, unionists in Wellington continued a blockade against a Maersk ship which unloaded containers in Auckland last week, although a court injunction allowed a second vessel to finish a call at Tauranga.


The Employment Court has not been so quick to issue an injunction sought by Wellington's port company against the Maritime Union, leaving it until this morning to hear from from both sides.

Mr Familathe, who is also second vice-chairman of the International Transport Federation's dockers section, expects to be joined by 16 other representatives of his union and a 45-member labour delegation from Australia in a march in Queen St on Saturday.

Mr Familathe's union has 42,000 members, mainly dock workers on the West Coast of the United States, Hawaii and Alaska, and in British Columbia, Canada.

He was reluctant to discuss a landmark dispute in which he was involved in 1998, when his longshoremen turned away an Australian meat export ship loaded by non-union labour, saying: "That is behind us - we're looking forward now."

Asked whether New Zealand exports may run into similar trouble if the Auckland port company fails to settle a new collective agreement with its unionised workers and replaces them with contractors, he said he could not predict the future. "I hope cooler heads will prevail."

Asked how the presence of outside unionists could be conducive to a settlement, rather than raising the temperature, he said they were coming to learn what was happening in their industry. "I do know there's a pledge from dock workers' unions throughout the world to support the Maritime Union of New Zealand.

"They are very good trade unionists who have supported other causes and the pledge for support and solidarity has been there from the trade union movement.

"This is really a battle about the working class in New Zealand - you can see this same attack taking place in ports throughout the world."

His union knew "exactly" what the port workers were going through, having just last month signed a collective agreement achieved after almost two years and the arrests of hundreds of its members at a grain export operation in Washington State.

A Ports of Auckland spokeswoman would not discuss Mr Familathe's visit, saying: "I think it would be best for us not to comment on international unions involving themselves in the current dispute."

But she said non-union workers continued discharging more than 700 containers yesterday from the third ship to arrive at her company's Fergusson terminal since the strike began.

A container ship chartered by Maersk, Irenes Remedy, was held up by a picket in Tauranga at the weekend before the port company gained an injunction from the Employment Court.

The injunction was against the Rail and Maritime Transport Union, which represents port workers who refused to cross a Maritime Union picket.

300 unionists today begin the 11th day of a four-week strike.

3 ships have discharged cargo at Auckland's Fergusson terminal.

2 of these ships have faced retribution in Tauranga and Wellington, where union pickets have sparked legal action.

8 ships have been diverted to other ports without calling at Auckland.