In a couple of week’s time parliament will resume and the government will start its move on the POAL dispute.
The way I figure it John Key and his government can do nothing at all or they can respond in a variety of ways.
The former is not going to be an option – the port is moving on redundancies and contracting and the union is responding with an international black-listing. If the dispute goes this far it may well spell the end for the port.
I also suspect that John Key and his government have had plans for POAL for some time – the fact the management and board had planned to manufacture the dispute before negotiations even started and the nature of their political connections suggest to me that it would be unlikely the government didn’t have a heads-up on this debacle.
Which means it’s likely the government will do something. I’m assuming that none of these responses will favour the union members that are having their pay and conditions attacked so that just leaves anti-worker responses.
My pick is that the degree of response John Key and his government feel they can implement against these workers will be based on the strength of public support these workers have. If the government is seen as attacking working people the response will be muted, if the public are ready to lynch the union the response will be extreme (and may well have repercussions for working Kiwis beyond the port).
Perhaps the worst of these being considered by Key and his government is a plan to “unbundle” the ownership of the port from employment of port workers. Across all ports. This would have the effect of forcing contracting across all ports by law.
Thankfully, as I understand it, Key’s polling is telling him that, despite large-scale smear campaigns by the usual suspects, the public support for the workers is such that a full scale attack on them would be too politically expensive. Especially as another PR hit like the one Key took over the hobbit dispute would make it seem very much like he’s a PM who always backs big corporates over working Kiwis.
So instead of the king-hit they really would like National are going to have to settle for a lesser hit on port workers. My expectation would be that there will be some small change in law that stops contracting levels being set in a collective agreement. This may only apply to ports or indeed may only apply to POAL (although legislating for a single employer would be awkward, messy and downright bad law, this government has shown no fear of similarly poor legislation in the past).
Whatever John Key and his government decide to do, one thing is a dead cert – to a smaller or greater extent it will take us another step further away from closing the wage-gap with Aussie.