Union won't rule out Christmas strike

The Maritime Union has not ruled out striking at the Ports of Auckland to disrupt the Christmas break, but retailers are confident they will come out of the holiday season unscathed.

The union indicated last week the potential for more industrial action if the Ports of Auckland continued what it was an "attack on port workers and their families".

Garry Parsloe, the president of the union, said its members agreed to look at any option to conclude the negotiations, including more strikes.

"We gave the employees a report on what was happening, and our members are getting frustrated," he said.

"They told us they will endorse any action at all to get a settlement on this matter."

Parsloe said all the members want is to get a settlement on the matter and to get closure.

He said the members of the union will do "whatever's required" to finish a deal regardless of the holiday season.

"I understand all that - I know small businesses will want products coming in for Christmas. It's not fair on them either," he said.

"I hope we don't have to do it - our people don't want to be out at Christmas. It's bad for our team too."

He said the union may look at other options like having parcel stops, or withdrawing labour in different areas.

John Albertson, the chief executive of the New Zealand Retailers Association, said it could hit retailers at their busiest time of the year.

"Obviously with so much coming through the ports at the moment it could be a real issue."

Most of it is already in, but there is still replacement stock to come. Any hiccup in the arrangements will be disruptive, and that's highly undesirable.

He said it was hard to put a dollar figure on how much it would affect the industry, because it depended on when New Zealanders start to shop in the lead-up to Christmas and what they buy.

"We do know that the big days come right towards Christmas, and it's critical to have stock in place," he said.

"Last year when the union went on strike at the same time it definitely left a few holes on the shelves - particularly for the grocery guys."

But Rod Duke, the managing director of Briscoe Group, said his company will not be affected.

"We have our buyers in Europe start preparing for Christmas in February - and those purchases would start arriving in August," he said.

"It's a very structured process - we have timetables with weeks where we require them to be shipped and unloaded from the wharves and delivered to us."

He said if trade were disrupted around that time of year, it could have a major impact, but December was a very light month when it came to shipping stock in.

"December is generally low, and it's light for a reason. The merchandise for the summer season is already there," he said. 

"I do have contingency plans, yes. I don't usually roster a lot of people in the distribution centre over Christmas - so I would have to rejig labour."

He said if there was a product that sold beyond expectations, he could just use air freight for backup.

Auckland Now