Restructure threatens port jobs: union

Several jobs are "on the chopping block" as PrimePort Timaru restructures its operations, a union says.

Sixteen staff were likely to be made redundant, with jobs being lost at the port for the third time in four years, the Rail and Maritime Transport Union said.

At last year's PrimePort Timaru annual meeting, chief executive Jeremy Boys talked up the purchase of PrimePort by Port of Tauranga, the union said.

"Now he's proposing to make those workers redundant and 'offer them an interview' with other stevedores, presumably in order to make them even more 'flexible'," union general secretary Wayne Butson said.

"Under this scheme, PrimePort will become little more than a landlord, clipping the ticket for every container, tonne of break bulk cargo and log that crosses the wharf, and our members face uncertainty and unknown job security."

NZX-listed Port of Tauranga last year announced a $21.6 million purchase of a half-stake in PrimePort Timaru, part of its strategy to become New Zealand's major hub port.

Port of Tauranga said it planned to boost Timaru as a marshalling point for South Island cargo.

It said that since 2008, container volumes at PrimePort had fallen 25 per cent, with freight instead shipped through Lyttelton Port of Christchurch or Port Otago.

Butson said that having entities owned by Port of Tauranga taking over the South Canterbury workforce could only be aimed at driving down wages.

The changes would do nothing for health and safety at the port, he said.

"The last time jobs were slashed at Timaru port it was because foreign-owned shipping companies pulled out of the container trade. This time we're doing it to ourselves," Butson said.

"The ports sector in New Zealand is becoming like the Wild West.

"Deregulation has created a free-for-all where ordinary Kiwi workers trying to provide for their families face a constant battle to hang on to their wages and conditions and try to ensure decent standards of health and safety."

What was needed was a comprehensive rethink at central government level to come up with a national ports strategy to meet the needs of Kiwi workers, taxpayers, ratepayers and the business community, Butson said.

The Press