Port of Auckland wharfies back to work

02:05, Mar 30 2012

Striking wharfies will be back at work within a week, after the Ports of Auckland made a surprise backdown today on a lockout notice it had issued for April 6.

The warring factions in the long-running industrial dispute were meant to appear in the Employment Court this morning, but came to a last minute agreement beforehand to return to the bargaining table.

The unexpected move was initiated by the Ports company, which announced it had made a "fresh determination" to work with the Maritime Union and come to a collective agreement.

That meant the proposal to introduce competitive stevedoring at the port was now on hold, said Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson.

The Port's backpedalling was aimed at easing pressure on the supply chain, where the company was "acutely aware" that customers and businesses were hurting.

"POAL has listened to wishes of the Court, as well the views of the Mayor and all other stakeholders", Gibson said.

Earlier this week, major shipping line Maersk bumped up its "strike surcharge" and announced it would rise again in May.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce head Michael Barnett said this morning there was a likelihood of further price increases, and they would run into many millions of dollars.

"[The dispute] is becoming an issue affecting the health of many thousands of businesses directly and of the New Zealand economy as a whole."

Maritime Union president Garry Parsloe was "elated" by the Port's reversal, which would help bring some order back to the lives of striking wharfies and their families.

"We're on track now", he said. "We're going to tell all our blokes that it's back to work."

Immediately after the announcement, Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the "responsible, mature" decision was a win for all, including workers, the port and the people of Auckland.

"We expect bargaining to run very smoothly", she said.

In court, Ports of Auckland lawyer John Haigh QC read out the settlement document, which contained similar optimism for finally bringing the dispute to an end.

"It is the intention of the port to proceed with mediation as speedily as possible", he said.

Judge Barry Travis commended the parties on both sides for enabling discussions to proceed "in a constructive manner".

However, Gibson cautioned that his company had not changed its determination to get a modern and efficient port.

"Paying on average 40 hours for 26 hours worked costs POAL over $8 million per annum. This cannot continue. Work practices at the Container Port must be customer focussed, flexible and modern", he said.

He said the Maritime Union would have to be 'ready, willing and able to deliver modern customer service.

Striking wharfies would return to work as soon as possible, but non-union permanent stevedores will hold the fort for now.

Today's Employment Court hearing was also meant to delve into whether the Ports of Auckland should be allowed to offer voluntary redundancies.

Both sides are still waiting for the May 16 substantive hearing, which will determine the legality of the Port's dismissal of nearly 300 workers.


Ports of Auckland director Rob Campbell has quit the port company board over differences in opinion.

Port chairman Richard Pearson confirmed Campbell's resignation today, saying it ''resulted from differences in views on board strategy''.

The port's council controlled shareholder, Auckland Council Investments, was responsible for board appointments, Pearson said.

Campbell, 61, came to public notice as a prominent unionist in the late 1970s but subsequently become known as a more politically complicated character after moving into business circles in the 1990s.


In a profile of Campbell last year, former Labour Party President and now Labour MP Andrew Little said he was known for "having changed his world view".

Another former Labour President Mike Williams said Campbell was known as the face of "modern unionism".

His resignation from the Ports of Auckland still leaves him with a bevy of directorships as he remains on the boards of 36 companies, including ACC, CallPlus and his own Tutanekai Investments.

Campbell also remains chairman of NZX-listed companies Guiness Peat Group and Turners & Growers.