Ex ARC chair 'sick' about port sackings

WILLIAM MACE
Last updated 05:00 09/03/2012

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The proposed sacking of almost 300 Ports of Auckland workers has sickened Auckland councillor Mike Lee.

But he says Maritime Union members should never have gone on strike in the first place.

After a long-running industrial dispute the port company announced on Wednesday it would make 292 workers redundant at a cost of $11 million, and ask them to reapply for jobs through outside stevedoring contractors.

Lee, a former head of the defunct Auckland Regional Council that previously owned the port, said yesterday he "felt sick" that the redundancies were the "ideal outcome" for the port's board and those "on the new government-appointed shareholder board of Auckland Council Investments Ltd (ACIL).

"I have disagreed with them going on strike from day one. I feared that it would end in disaster and so it has."

The union yesterday suggested a fresh legal challenge against the timing of the dismissals, which were announced while the union thought collective agreement negotiations were still in progress.

Employment law expert Jennifer Mills said though a consultation process had been conducted by the employer, the union's claims of pre-determination, good faith breaches and failure to provide relevant information could provide a "hollow victory" in the court room. This was because success on such procedural points might delay the dismissals or even win damages through an Employment Court challenge, but the action would probably not restore the workers' jobs in their previous form.

"Unless the union can show that Ports of Auckland's decision was not substantively justified, any remedies will most likely be limited to financial awards.

"That may be cold comfort for employees made redundant," she said.

As chairman of the Auckland Regional Council – the shareholder of the port company before it was folded into the Auckland "Super City" – Lee said he worked to keep the port and the union "flying in formation". The proof of his approach was in the pudding, he said, adding that he could not remember any industrial disputes during his tenure, but the new council was not taking such a hands-on approach.

Despite being on the Auckland Council, Lee said he was not involved in the decision to raise Ports of Auckland's profit target from 6 per cent to 12 per cent of shareholders' funds over the next five years.

"If I had the opportunity, I would vote against it, but not because I think it's impossible: I think it is possible."

Lee believed ACIL should have focused on raising prices charged for shipping through the port, rather than targeting the labour costs, which were less than half of the port's expenditure. Fairfax NZ

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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