Mediation talks fail in port dispute

MARIA SLADE AND DANYA LEVY
Last updated 16:50 12/04/2012

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Ports of Auckland and the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) may go to the Employment Relations Authority to have their long-running industrial dispute settled, as latest talks between the parties come to nothing.

The port company and the wharfies' union were back in mediation today, but both sides declared the discussions a failure.

Ports of Auckland said it tabled a ''constructive offer that made a number of advances on its previous offers''.

However, the Maritime Union's response was to maintain its position.

''Over eight months of bargaining we simply haven't seen a willingness from MUNZ to negotiate a modern flexible agreement,'' ports chief executive Tony Gibson said.

Meanwhile, the union said it was frustrated that Ports of Auckland had tabled a document pressing ahead with reductions to job security for wharfies.

Union president Garry Parsloe said the company's proposals not only reduced employee protections in the event of contracting out, but also continued to insist on the removal of employment security that would result in wharfies having no guaranteed days off, no protection against casualisation and a package that would significantly reduce their pay.

"Despite the union offering a range of significant proposals to change the current agreement, the port continues to insist on a whole new agreement which removes basic security," he said.

Ports of Auckland said in order to get constructive progress, it had proposed that the parties now use the Employment Relations Authority's facilitation process, as agreed in the Employment Court two weeks ago.

The union said it would consider the proposal overnight.

CAMERAS, SECURITY GUARDS

The port company rejected claims it was being paranoid about unionised workers and says it has installed cameras and security guards for health and safety reasons.

The Council of Trade Unions said today it was "outraged" that striking wharfies returning to work at the port last week had found security cameras in all the straddler drivers and cranes, security guards in their tearooms and a ban on wearing union paraphernalia.

CTU president Helen Kelly said the union believed the publicly owned port company was trying to intimidate port workers and the latest moves had left wharfies feeling "incredibly bullied".

"They are staunch union people, they are proud of the stance they took and they won't be bullied and intimidated."

The company was spending ratepayer money on "paranoia", she said.

"It's a misuse of their power, it's a misuse of public money, it's just unnecessary and it shows they have learnt nothing from their human resources failures over the past four months."

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However, a spokeswoman for Ports of Auckland said the CTU was trying to deflect attention away from the real issues.

"That should be the union's focus in mediation today toward a resolution of this lengthy dispute."

Health and safety and security issues had been discussed with Maritime Union representatives prior to their return to work last week.

"It is the Port's responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all staff," the spokeswoman said.

Kelly said no one wanted to work in front of a security camera all day and security guards in the workers' tearoom was "feeding into the port's narrative that these workers are thugs".

"It hasn't worked, the people of Auckland have got to know these wharfies and are backing them."

The port had also banned the wearing of union paraphernalia. Workers in the past had "proudly" worn union badges and t-shirts to work, she said.

"It's a message clearly that the port is anti-union."

However, the spokeswoman said union and "Save our Ports" t-shirts were visible on the port today.

LEAK ADMITTED

Meanwhile, in a letter to the Maritime Union, the port has admitted leaking personal employment details of a wharfie who spoke to the media about the industrial dispute.

The right-wing blog Whale Oil last month published details of Cecil Walker who was given nearly 21 weeks off work in 2007 and 2008 on full pay because his wife was terminally ill.

In the letter, port chief executive Tony Gibson apologised for any distress caused to Walker but said Walker had put himself in the public domain by speaking to the media.

While the ports would not release personal details in the future, it would still try to counter unbalanced stories about the dispute.

Labour's industrial relations spokeswoman, Darien Fenton, said the port's behaviour was "utterly disgraceful".

"You really have to ask a question about what sort of advice the management is getting and who are they getting it from.

"Even though the two sides have been at loggerheads, you don't expect a large publicly owned port to act in that fashion."

The port was supposed to be negotiating a collective contract with the wharfies but was still treating them like the enemy, she said.

- Stuff

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