Ports of Auckland is to open negotiations today with a new union of non-striking workers, raising alarm in the Council of Trade Unions.

CTU president Helen Kelly suspects the creation of the new organisation, PortPro, is "a ruse" to sideline the established Maritime Union and set new working conditions while its dispute with the port remains unsettled.

That is denied by the company and PortPro chairman, veteran wharfie and former Maritime Union member Grant Lane, who said his purpose was purely to protect the positions of 33 stevedoring employees who worked through the earlier disruption and "had a gutsful" of the old union.

Port spokeswoman Dee Radhakrishnan said there had been no company involvement in setting up the new body, but it was legally obliged to respond to the group's bargaining overtures.


Ms Kelly said it was highly suspicious that workers wanting to know more about PortPro's bargaining intentions were invited in a company memo to contact port stevedoring manager Jonathan Hulme.

The memo had appeared just as a collective document covering Maritime Union members was due to lapse into individual agreements.

That meant if PortPro gained a collective agreement, it would become the ruling document for new workers, who by law would be automatically covered by it for their first 30 days.

Mr Hulme would not comment on whether he was involved with the new union and told the Herald he did not know how to get in touch with it.

But Dee Radhakrishnan, when asked why staff were invited to contact Mr Hulme to find out more about the union, said that was so he could refer them to Mr Lane for information about the proposed bargaining.

She denied that the company had anything to do with setting up the union, saying Mr Hulme's name was on the memo simply as recipient of a bargaining initiation notice from PortPro.

Mr Lane said PortPro was "totally independent" of the company, and had been set up to protect the interests of the non-striking workers against any renewed attempt to contract out waterfront work, which has been on hold since March under an Employment Court-approved agreement with the Maritime Union after a summer of industrial turmoil.

Maritime Union president Gary Parsloe said he was investigating whether ProPro met a legal requirement of being set up at "arm's length" from the employer.


Waterfront dispute

*Maritime Union and Ports of Auckland remain in negotiations before a Government "facilitator" after a wave of strikes over summer followed by company agreement to freeze contracting-out plans.

*Expired collective employment agreement covering established union members will lapse into individual terms based on the old document if no new deal is agreed by September 30.

*New union PortPro intent on negotiating separate collective agreement which CTU is worried will become the ruling port employment document before a settlement with the Maritime Union.