Port fined for hiring strike breakers

Last updated 05:00 14/12/2012

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Ports of Auckland has been fined $40,000 for illegally employing strike-breaking contractors during industrial action last year.

In February and March the ports (POAL) employed an overseas engineer and local contractors to carry out engineering work when Maritime Union of New Zealand members were striking over the port's contracting out plans.

In one instance, POAL hired Australian contractor Andre Labus at a cost of $2,000 a day to train users of Noell straddles at the port. Because of the strike, the only ports employee able to undergo the training was an apprentice so the pair were instead asked to do repair work on straddles which had broken down during the strike.

This work was usually carried out by ports staff in the engineering division, most of whom were union members.

Employment Relations Authority (ERA) member Anna Fitzgibbon said in her written decision that while the port argued the contractor had been asked to do the straddle repair work in the context of training the apprentice,  this was "not plausible".

She said in her view ports was aware of section 97 of the Employment Relations Act regarding performing duties of striking or locked out workers but in order to keep the port operating it made calculated decisions to breach the provision.

"This was not a flagrant breach in which a new workforce of employees was employed to take over all of the work of the striking employees. POAL made use of existing employees to perform some work only. However, the breach was deliberate and serious," she said.

POAL's chairman and chief executive both refused comment on the decision though a brief written company statement said it was disappointed with the fine imposed, particularly given it was focused on keeping the port running to minimise the impact on customers.

Union national president Garry Parsloe said the ERA decision placed port management in an untenable position.

"Instead of focussing on settling a fair collective agreement, the port embarked on an unprincipled plan to sack their entire stevedoring workforce and replace them with contracted labour.

"Ultimately the costs of POAL's actions impact on the return to the people of Auckland."

The ERA decision didn't delve into how much money the ports made by its deliberate breaches in keeping the port going during the strike.

Some $10,000 of the fine goes to the union and the other $30,000 to the Crown.

The union has not ruled out further strikes over the Christmas break, as its dispute with the ports drags on. The two parties have been in facilitation at the ERA over their collective employment agreement since early May.

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- Auckland Now

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