Thousands march in support of port workers

VICTORIA ROBINSON
Last updated 18:56 10/03/2012
Workers, families and supporters of Auckland's port workers who are currently striking over working conditions, make their way along the waterfront in protest at being made redundant by the company.
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ

PROTEST WALK: Workers, families and supporters of Auckland's port workers who are currently striking over working conditions, make their way along the waterfront in protest at being made redundant by the company.

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Thousands of people are marching from Auckland's Waterfront in support of port workers who have been made redundant this week.

A wide range of people have turned out for the march, including students, wharfies from all over the country, unions and even Anglican priests.

Today's turnout follows news that Australian port workers are showing their solidarity with their Kiwi counterparts by refusing to unload a ship handled by non-union workers in Auckland.

A spokeswoman for the Maritime Union of Australia said union members were refusing to unload the Maersk Brani, which docked at Sydney DP World Wharf at Botany Bay at 5am.

The ship left Auckland on Wednesday evening, after being loaded by non-union staff at the Ports of Auckland.

Today's rally began at 4pm, with workers marching from Britomart to Teal Park in Auckland. The Australian spokeswoman said the Sydney dock workers have also organised a protest set to take place this afternoon.

International Transport Workers' Federation dockers' section secretary Frank Leys plans to address the Auckland crowd, letting them know that 40,000 dockers worldwide were behind them in the bid to save their jobs.

Leys said all the workers wanted was a fair deal, but their requests for job security were not approached in good faith by Ports of Auckland.

He said the dispute was crucial for trade union relations in New Zealand, as proposed changes would mean the next generation of workers would face employment with no security or benefits.

Protestor David Fana said he was at the march to show solidarity with the wharfies.

''We should be worried about it. If casualising jobs is going to happen down here it’s going to somewhere else,” he said.

David Clifford, a port worker from Wellington who said he had travelled to Auckland especially for the march, said he was disgusted at the way his fellow workers had been treated by mayor Len Brown and the Ports of Auckland.

''We’re trying to achieve secure jobs for the boys and trying to stop the casualisation of workers in New Zealand. It’s a growing cancer.''

The protestors carried a range of banners. One had a picture of John Key and read:''The key thing is sincerity. Once you can fake it you’ve got it made.''

Another sign read: ''24 hrs, 7 days. All weathers. Double shift. No extra pay.''

The port announced on Wednesday that 300 striking wharf employees would be made redundant and their jobs contracted out after seven months of contract negotiations failed.

Port chief executive Tony Gibson said there was a compelling business case for the changes at the wharf.

"Until now we have been constrained by practices which have reduced the port's competitiveness and in recent months industrial action which has lost us significant business."

Firefighters around the country will also be joining the protest.

Mike McEnaney, Auckland Local President of the NZ Professional Firefighters Union, said firefighters wanted to show their support and solidarity for port workers and would walk side by side in the public rally.

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"The actions of the port company in this particular dispute virtually mirror those of the NZ Fire Service who in a similar vain, with the backing of the National Government in 1996, tried to sack all firefighters in an attempt to force them on an individual contract,'' McEnaney said.

Hundreds of firefighters, who are fed up with their own lengthy negotiations, are expected to join the protest.

- Stuff

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