Port dispute end in sight, but when?

WILLIAM MACE
Last updated 16:03 31/01/2013

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The end seems to be in sight for the long-running Auckland waterfront industrial dispute, but just when it will be settled is still a little murky.

The Maritime Union has welcomed a decision by Ports of Auckland (POAL) to agree to recommendations made by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) in a long-running dispute with its union-aligned workers.

In a statement, POAL chief executive Tony Gibson said the company was not happy with aspects of the recommendations, but it was "willing to compromise in order to do a deal".

Details of the recommendations made by ERA facilitator Alastair Dumbleton remain confidential.

"Accepting the recommendations means compromise on both sides, but it also offers significant benefits for the port, port staff, their families, and Auckland as a whole," Gibson said.

"Last year [Maritime Union president] Garry Parsloe gave the [Auckland] Mayor an assurance that the union would 'consider and respond in a positive way to the recommendations of the facilitator', so I am hopeful that the Maritime Union will also accept the recommendations without further delay."

In response Parsloe said the union welcomed POAL's statement that it was "willing to compromise on the basis of the recommendations of the facilitator, to reach the settlement of a collective agreement at the port".

However, Parsloe's statement indicated POAL's decision was only the beginning of another collective agreement negotiation.

He said the union considered ERA's recommendations "to be a useful basis to enter into what it hopes will be a successful round of negotiations with POAL, as is recommended by the authority, to reach a settlement that is fair to all the parties".

He said the union wanted to enter into negotiations as soon as possible.

"The union is seeking the agreement of POAL to an all up meeting of members to enable members to consider the recommendations and any progress made in bargaining on them in the interim."

Last week Parsloe said there was no guarantee ERA's non-binding recommendations would bring an end to the standoff.

The dispute, which began in September 2011, was centred around the port's plan to introduce flexible working conditions to improve productivity and competitiveness.

It prompted rolling strikes, lock-outs, mass protests and bitter public debate, as well as inconveniencing retailers and port customers.

Most of the industrial action had died down by April last year, when the two parties sought help from the Government to hash out a collective agreement.

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Both the Maritime Union and POAL said they would not make any further comment until the recommendations were made public.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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