Ports of Auckland faces yet another strike - for 48 hours from this morning ((Friday)) - in an increasingly bitter dispute which has already disrupted shipping three times this month.
The strike from 7am by more than 300 dockers covered by the Maritime Union will carry the row over unsettled collective employment negotiations through the first dawn of 2012.
There has been no attempt by either side to break the impasse since the workers at the port's two container terminals held two 24-hour strikes last weekend, including on Christmas Day, and issued notice of a fifth round of stoppages early next month.
But the port company says it will use non-union labour to stay open today and tomorrow, as it did last weekend for the first time during a strike, to allow trucks to deliver or collect containers from its wharves.
Chief executive Tony Gibson said yesterday ((Thurs)) that the port handled more than 500 truck movements last time, which helped to clear the backlog once the unionists returned to
work on ships delayed by the stoppages.
Union branch and national president Garry Parsloe said his members remained ready to lift their notice of next month's strikes if the company showed ''good faith'' by allowing them to operate two cargo shuttle carriers which were replaced last year by trucks driven by employees subsidiary firm.
He said the union was prepared to consider allowing the trucks to supplement carrier operations as an interim measure, as long as the company would agree to a timetable to work out a more permanent arrangement.
"We will remove any industrial action while we negotiate going forward - if he [Mr Gibson] can't grab that there's something wrong with the bloke.''
But Mr Gibson accused him of being "disingenuous'' in repeating an unacceptable demand while refusing to respond to the company's latest offer, of a 10 per cent rise on hourly pay rates and up to 20 per cent on bonuses in return for a radical new rostering system.
"It's absolutely preposterous - we're talking about a modern world where we need to get productivity up,'' he
said of the shuttle carrier proposal.
It would require independent operators of trucks entering the port to leave their cabs while unionists drove the vehicles between container terminals.
Mr Parsloe said the new rostering proposal risked turning his members into casual workers "waiting on the end of a phone all their lives on a call from the company.''
He said the company's complaints about poor productivity were belied by an written invitation before the dispute to its workers to a barbecue to celebrate a record rate of container handling for September, of an average of 28.33 an hour.
But Mr Gibson said productivity was more than about turnaround times, as existing rostering rules allowed a labour utilisation rate in Auckland of only about 65 per cent compared with almost 90 per cent at the rival Port of Tauranga.
He denied trying to casualise his workforce, saying the new rostering system would give the dockers better control of their lives by allowing them to choose a month in advance whether to work shifts of between 5 hours and 12 hours a day.
This weekend's strike will delay four ships, which have been unable to be diverted to Tauranga because of capacity limits there and a holiday-period shutdown of Auckland's rail system to allow electrification work.
That would mean any containers bound for Auckland would have to be sent by truck from Tauranga, if ships were diverted there.
Mr Gibson said the latest strike would push the Auckland Council-owned port's revenue
losses from the dispute to about $3 million as well as further undermining fragile business confidence.