It’s slipped down the news agenda but is about to come back up it: The Ports of Auckland Dispute. The next round is beginning as the dispute is only just warming up.
The Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) has had leaflets in suburban newspapers explaining their side of the dispute, and will today be handing out flyers urging people to sign a petition in support of fair and secure employment for their members.
When you sign it, an email goes to Tony Gibson so he can feel the level of support the port workers have.
Gibson has been forced back into mediation on Friday after being caught out claiming that it was MUNZ who had caused negotiations to break down. They’d love him to have received a lot of emails of worker support by then.
Gibson has been caught out on quite a few things, from the “high” wages his employees earn ($27/hour for stevedores – 24/7, no overtime – $14.25 for casual workers; compared to his $750k salary) to claims of lack of productivity (Auckland sits second in the Australasian league table, just behind Tauranga). Union negotiators feel they’ve never had an employer less interested in negotiating, or doing so in such bad faith as to threaten to sack all the workers and contract out in the middle of negotiations.
But the worst thing for Auckland Ratepayers is that he’s being unreasonable on our money.
A leaked report showed that the Port’s management have set aside $9 million to have this dispute, and another $9 million will be needed for redundancies. They have hired a PR company, lawyers and 3 negotiating contractors to spend our dime, attacking the workers who only last September they were celebrating for breaking productivity records.
The workers have been getting up to rates of 34 containers per hour off ships – that’s 1 minute 40 from on the ship to stacked in the appropriate pile. And keeping that up for hours on end. This has led to a record number of containers in the last reporting year (up 3.1% on the year before), non-container materials up 24% and a record low 1.7 days average time in port for ships – generating huge savings for the shipping companies.
Those shipping companies are where the profit is being squeezed, not the labour costs. Happy to pay $480/container in Australia, the international shipping companies aim for prices of $210-$220 in NZ as they play the Ports off against each other, and we build ever more infrastructure to try and compete. Those low prices mean the incredible productivity our workers are achieving is merely resulting in big profits for foreign shipping giants – like Maersk, who have provided the last 2 Ports of Auckland CEOs.
The dispute is largely about management wanting casualisation of the workforce – no guaranteed hours, no guaranteed job. Always on call, and kept hungry for more work should it come your way. Breaking worker power.
The union have offered “major changes in working conditions. These include more flexibility in rosters, changes to overtime rosters, and greater use of part-timers. Port management said these offers addressed major concerns and were ‘big’ in terms of costs savings. But then they said they didn’t want to settle the agreement.”
The union also offered to take part in further long-term productivity drives, and only requested a 2.5% rise in wages after a year of 4.6% inflation. All this refused, and then the management held out the unions refusing a 10% rise (over 30 months and not agreeing to complete casualisation) as unreasonable.
But it is Gibson who is being unreasonable with his threats to contract out all labour, and his letters to the families of port workers about wage losses to try and create emotional stress on the home front.
And with these threats he also threatens the 9% pre-tax return the Port makes as one of the Council’s more profitable assets.
The aim is to raise that to 12%, but Gibson is incurring costs and ruining the reputation of an incredibly productive port – it is hard to see how his actions will raise the income.
It is easy to see how his actions could threaten Auckland’s enviable safety record – no death in about 22 years (Tauranga, the model they want, has had 3 deaths in the last 18 months). Contracted out workers are less safe – you never know who you’re working with, and a climate of fear is established with worry that if you raise safety concerns you may not get any work tomorrow…
It is easy to see how the sequence of strikes and lock-outs he is causing threatens the estimated $1 billion of wider economic benefits the Port creates for Auckland.
And it is easy to see how the flow of port workers will only increase with his actions – they can earn about double in Australia. Currently 2-4 each week are heading to Australia from Auckland (5/week nationally).
And with that flood of skills leaving the productivity will plummet. These are skilled workers – it takes 6 months to get the crane drivers etc fully up to speed. The Engineers? 3-4 years.
None of this bodes well for the Port, or Auckland ratepayers.
So sign the petition and back the workers – let’s make Tony see sense.