Leak accusation further sours ports stoush

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 10:27 14/03/2012

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An already bitter dispute between the Ports of Auckland and the Maritime Union has become even more acrimonious after the company was accused of leaking personal details of a striking worker.

The long-running industrial dispute centres on the port wanting to introduce a competitive stevedoring system. Management wanted permanent staff to become casual workers, offering a 10 per cent pay increase in return. Port staff wanted a smaller pay rise in exchange for permanent hours.

Personal details about Cecil Walker and the number of days he took off work in 2007 and 2008 while his late wife was terminally ill have been published by the right-wing blogger Cameron Slater on his website Whale Oil.

Walker says no one had the information - which includes specific details about how many days he took off in sick, compassionate and bereavement leave - except the port company.

Whale Oil also published details about Walker's new marriage and baby, saying the port company sent his new wife a gift basket after the baby was born.

"These are not the signs of a company that does not look after its staff and their families," Whale Oil said.

On Monday, Walker took part in an interview with Radio New Zealand and spoke about the impact of the strike on the workers' families, which Whale Oil criticised as "Red Radio lapping up his hard done story without fact checking".

Walker said this morning that although his fellow workers knew he took time off to care for his wife, only the company knew the break down of his leave entitlements.

"Even I don't know the exact times," he told Radio New Zealand.

Walker said he and his new wife were angry and disappointed the information had been published.

"I haven't really involved the kids because they have already gone through enough heartache with their mum passing away and I don't want to bring old wounds back to them."

Walker said he felt violated but he didn't regret speaking to the media.

"I didn't realise that if you did speak out that your personal life and information that people hold would come out into the public arena."

Walker said his lawyers were looking into the matter.

The Council of Trade Unions said the spread of private information was "deeply disturbing".

President Helen Kelly said it amounted to "the worst form of corporate thuggery".

"It is clear to us that Ports of Auckland is deliberately sending information to the blogger as part of its PR campaign against the workers.

"It is an obvious attempt to try and intimidate its workforce."

Other workers should be concerned it set a new bar for appropriate behaviour during employment negotiations.

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The Maritime Union had made a privacy complaint to the Ports of Auckland and was seeking a full apology and undertaking that no further contact would be made with the Slater, she said.

Greens industrial relations spokeswoman Denise Roche said information on the website about what "we" had done for Walker suggested it had come from the Ports of Auckland.

"Until that is proven, we have to assume innocence but that amount of information and the detail is only available from the company or the wharfie himself."

Many Aucklanders were concerned the ports management had handled the entire dispute "very badly", she said.

"The Ports of Auckland management are attempting to discredit their own staff and that is really dodgy management practise.

"What kind of management turn their staff into villains in the public's eyes if they want to keep them employed?"

Maritime Union secretary and treasurer Russell Mayn said the private information should not have been published.

"This is not an industrial matter, it is nothing to do with the strike," he told Radio New Zealand.

"This is tragic set of circumstances in his family which has now been bandied about on a website for everyone to read and it just brings up the heartache which went with it."

Mayn said it was "unfathomable" the ports company would release the information.

"This is nothing but, to use the company's words and the words that have been bandied about, thuggery and intimidation in its highest form."

A Ports of Auckland spokeswoman said chief executive Tony Gibson learned about Walker's details being published when he received a letter from the Maritime Union yesterday afternoon.

"He's going to look into that and he will respond in due course."

The industrial dispute turned nasty this week when with police were called to a picket line on Monday to investigate claims of aggression against staff trying to go to work.

And yesterday, the Maritime Union took legal action against the Ports of Auckland to protect striking workers' jobs. The union filed an injunction in the Employment Court to stop the port's proposed dismissal of nearly 300 workers, until the court can rule if the action is legal.

- Stuff

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