Port has second ERA win
A second Employment Relations Authority ruling in as many weeks has gone Ports of Auckland's way, with the authority ruling the port company was justified in giving a staff member a final warning.
It follows a decision earlier this month that the removal of two foreman's roles at the port would not undermine current contract negotiations with wharfies or result in unsafe work practices, as the Maritime Union of New Zealand had claimed.
In the latest decision, the ERA said Ports of Auckland was within its rights to give stevedore Carl Findlay a final written warning for removing a letter from a manager's office.
Findlay used a ruler to retrieve a letter written by another stevedore, Tamati Davie, from underneath stevedoring manager Jonathan Hulme's locked office door.
The letter was in response to an investigation Hulme was conducting into whether Davie had passed on confidential Ports of Auckland information to the Maritime Union.
Davie put the letter under Hulme's door but decided he wanted to add to his response so asked Findlay - who is vice president of the Auckland branch of the union - to get it back.
Findlay made no attempt to contact Hulme to ask for permission to retrieve it, the ERA said. Despite being confronted by a senior staff member who saw what he did, and receiving a text from Hulme the next morning asking for the letter back, Findlay did not return it, the authority said.
His actions did not constitute serious misconduct as the port company said, but were serious enough for the port to issue a written warning. Ports of Auckland acted in a "procedurally fair manner", the authority said.
The earlier ERA decision followed an urgent application from the Maritime Union opposing the port's proposal to disestablish the roles of yard foreman and 'as required' foreman.
The authority said there was no tangible evidence of any health and safety consequences to the restructure, as the union had argued, and the port's consultation process was reasonable.
It also said the specific roles were not mentioned in the collective employment agreement, and their removal was "an operational matter rather than an issue related to the current bargaining".
Minter Ellison Rudd Watts employment law partner Jennifer Mills said the authority's finding rested on the premise that it was an employer's prerogative to make decisions about the operational side of its business, so long as it did not breach the employment agreement or any statutory obligations.
"Despite the efforts of the Maritime Union to link the restructuring proposal in this case with the ongoing collective bargaining dispute, the authority held that the matters are quite separate and distinct," she said.
The Maritime Union, representing 172 stevedores at the port, is in ongoing ERA-led facilitation with Ports of Auckland to try to conclude negotiations over a new collective agreement.
- © Fairfax NZ News