Jackson pulls back from port comments

MICHAEL FOX, JENNY KEOWN AND DANYA LEVY
Last updated 19:20 12/03/2012
HAMISH COLEMAN-ROSS

Protesters blocked the entrance to the Ports of Auckland to bring further attention to their ongoing union dispute.

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Radio Live broadcaster Willie Jackson has pulled back on comments advocating striking Ports of Auckland workers to engage in "militant action" to get what they wanted.

Picketing wharfies were today accused of harassment after they blocked the entrance to the port, with one woman claiming she was intimidated by up to 30 men who demanded to know where she worked.

The Maritime Union and the port are still at loggerheads after a meeting this afternoon with Auckland mayor Len Brown.

Jackson labelled port bosses "greedy, filthy, right-wing fundamentalists" who were led by a "gutless wonder" mayor on his show this afternoon.

Jackson said that if you really wanted something you had to act.

"You don't go stop and then the scabs come in and they take your jobs. Go and bust your picket or your placard on their cars. I support that action."

Ports of Auckland sacked almost 300 workers last week after a four-month industrial dispute.

Jackson told port workers to harass port chairman Richard Pearson to get a result.

"I'm into militant action. Go and occupy. If I was them I'd go and sit on that Pearson's car, right. I'd sit on his car, occupy his car. Occupy his office. Occupy everywhere. Do what you have to do."

However, later today Jackson said in a statement that he did not advocate violence of any kind.

He said the port dispute was one he felt passionately about and his comments had to be viewed in the context of a heated debate.

"I want to make it clear that when I say 'militant action', I'm talking about taking a stance on an issue in a strong but non-violent manner, in the way that Lucy Lawless took a stance recently with Greenpeace," Jackson said.

"As I said very clearly in today's broadcast, I do not advocate violence."

NO PROGRESS AT MAYORAL MEETING

A meeting between Auckland mayor Len Brown, the Ports of Auckland and the Maritime Union has failed to make progress in the city's waterfront dispute.

Brown hosted a three-and-a-half hour meeting between the parties at the town hall today which finished at 1.30pm.

A Ports of Auckland spokesperson said its position remained the same and it would still progress with its plans to contract out work on its container wharves.

Brown said he was going to ''try everything'' to bring about a solution because Aucklanders want their port back to full capacity again.

''However I won't be telling either side what to do. The operations of the port cannot be run out of the mayor's office.''

Until last week the two sides were still talking so it would have been wrong to interfere, he said.

Brown made the offer to bring the union and the port together yesterday.

''I appreciate the way both sides took up that offer in good faith despite their differences.''

''In the end it's up to the two sides. I won't be dictating terms to them in the same way the Minister of Health wouldn't decide on a dispute involving nurses and shareholding ministers wouldn't decide on a dispute at Air New Zealand.''

No dates had been set down for any further meetings between the parties.

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TEMPERS FLARE

This morning, police were called when a protest by picketing wharfies on the city's waterfront turned ugly.

The protesters were accused of harassment after they blocked trucks, other port workers and staff from nearby companies from entering the port.

One woman who works in the area, who did not want to be identified, said she was confronted by 20 to 30 men in dark hoodies when she arrived at the Solent St entrance at 6.15am.

"After making me stop they demanded to know where I worked and when I told them I didn't work for the ports and didn't feel comfortable telling them were I worked and asked them to please move, I had them lean on my car call me a 'stupid f**ing bitch' telling me to 'get a real job' and pushing it backwards."

The woman said she was "extremely upset" by the incident and called police.

"Feeling totally intimidated I started to move my car forwards and they threw themselves on it and shoved a road cone under my car.

"Verbally abusing people and harassing them in this way is the right way to royally piss [off] the population of Auckland and New Zealand."

Police said they had received a complaint about several staff members being confronted and intimidated this morning shortly before 7am. Officers were sent down at 7.15am and had not received any complaints since.

The port also called police and in statement said officers were investigating several complaints from staff after "picketers forced cars to stop, demanded information about why occupants were entering the port, verbally abused occupants, photographed licence plates and, in one case, hit the car of a female staff member".

The port said picket lines were in place from 4am to stop marine crews getting to work, impacting a cruise ship and a container ship due to berth early today.

It said pickets were blocking access at Fergusson Terminal, Tinley St, Captain Cook, Princes Wharf, Wynyard Wharf and police were talking to picketers to clear the roads.

The Council of Trade Unions has not returned calls for comment about the allegations. 

By around 7.30am, trucks were backed up to the Shell station on Tamaki Dr opposite Vector Arena, blocking morning traffic, before ports workers relented, a witness said.

The workers began letting the trucks at 7.40am but they asked the drivers to turn around at the gate and refuse to unload their cargo in support of their cause.

The first truck driver appeared to be confused and left, but all others went through, the witness said.

WORKERS WILL BE RE-EMPLOYED - KEY

This morning Prime Minister John Key waded into the dispute, saying he expected most of the port workers would be re-employed by the port company as part of a casualised new work force.

Key was asked about suggestions by the Maritime Union that the Ports of Auckland had been looking to make workers redundant all along to introduce a casualised work force to boost its profits.

"I think they went through a genuine good faith process," he told TVNZ's Breakfast programme.

The company believed it was losing business, primarily to the Port of Tauranga, because it wasn't competitive.

"Their view is unless they change, it will be death by a thousand cuts."

Ports of Auckland is wholly owned by the Auckland Council and operated through Auckland Council Investments Limited.

Demand from the council for a 12 per cent return from the company within five years, up from a current 6 per cent, had not lead to the dispute, Key said.

The port had struggled with financial problems for some time and cash flow issues had forced it to sell Queens Wharf to the Government.

"Unless that's an efficient workplace, unless it's competitive, ultimately they will continue to lose business."

The company was trying to make savings at the port to protect all its jobs, he said,

"And I guess they have moved to this issue where they want to go to outsourcing."

The company needed to find almost 300 workers and would take people with experience.

"I suspect quite a lot of the people who have been made redundant will actually reapply and funnily enough get their job back just through a different vehicle... the conditions will be different."

ISSUE FLEXIBILITY, NOT PAY

Workers at the port had historically been paid "pretty well", Key said.

"The average income has been about $90,000, so it hasn't been a badly-paid place.

"But the problem is flexibility when ships arrive and when staff get called out, how they can cope with that."

New Zealand companies needed to be competitive so they could compete internationally, Key said.

"Ultimately if they can't compete then you will go an see a situation where substitution takes place and you see goods coming from overseas."

Port workers in Wellington and Australia have also shown solidarity with their Auckland counterparts by refusing to unload ships handled by non-union workers in Auckland.

However, Key said he didn't believe the dispute would damage the country's exports by resulting in New Zealand ships not being unloaded at ports around the world because they had been handled by contracted workers.

"Why? It takes part in Tauranga today and takes place in other parts of Auckland ports today," he told Radio Live

In full-page newspaper advertisements at the weekend, the port defended its previous offer to workers, saying it was generous and fair. It had previously said the port had lost millions of dollars of work because of the strike.

On Saturday thousands of workers marched in central Auckland in support of the sacked staff and the action continued on Sunday.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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