National high flyer Jami-Lee Ross, Ports of Auckland’s chief shill, and Fran O’Sullivan all joined the fray over the port dispute yesterday. How does their line that the workers are overpaid marry with the Port’s claim that they’re offering pay rises? Does the Port project its wage bill would rise or fall if its offer were to be accepted? And what to make of this ‘national interest’ line?
I wonder if Ross jumped the gun or its part of the plan. Until now, National has conspicuously stayed out of the Port dispute but yesterday Ross went blundering in claiming that workers’ rights to organise for collective bargaining are too strong and repeating the line that the Port workers are overpaid. Ross wrote:
“This isn’t a story of a David versus Goliath battle where workers are being ripped off or paid a pittance. Few could call poverty on an average annual wage for a wharfie understood to be north of $90,000, with a proposed 10 percent hourly rate increase and performance bonuses of up to 20 percent, sitting on the table. To the average person on the street, the latest Ports of Auckland offer to the Union would almost seem generous… the bare-faced mockery that the Maritime Union is making of civilised negotiations New Zealanders will soon begin to question what position unions should hold in the modern Kiwi workplace.”
Of course, Ross doesn’t mention that workers would end up with less pay at the end of the week. And he would know something about good pay. He’s been paid over a hundred thousand dollars for doing … what precisely? … since he became the Member for Botany.
But what’s Ross’s point here? That the workers are paid too much? That they should suck up some cuts and just be glad it isn’t more? I wonder if Ross will be putting forward a proposal to cut his own pay when Parliament resumes after its two month holiday. Oh, and what’s up with his grammar?
[incidentally, Ross calculates that Fonterra sent $1.4 billion of exports through Ports of Auckland before it shifted. What he didn’t calculate is that is only about 10% of Fonterra’s exports and only 5% of the $26 billion of cargo that the Port handles in a year. And don’t get me started on his line that workers shouldn’t ‘bite the hand that feeds’ – it’s the workers doing to work and generating the wealth, not the bosses].
Yesterday, Catherine Etheredge, Senior Manager Communications at the Port, came on The Standard to similarly smear her colleagues – which the Port praises so highly in its last annual report – as overpaid and lazy. In the process, she also provided some detail of the tricky accounting that the Port has used to get the mythical $90,000 a year figure. Very useful.
I note there’s no suggestion that her salary or break times should be cut.
In fact, the Port’s figures show that ‘Key management personnel‘, which are defined as the CE and the people reporting directly to him (6 middle-aged white guys by the looks), were paid a total of $3.25 million last year. That’s $750,000 for the CE and $500,000 for each senior manager. Don’t forget $80,000 per director for a few days work a year.
Fran O’Sullivan took a slightly more refined angle, which I suspect is set to become the Right’s new main line:
“the Productivity Commission which estimates exporters and importers spend upwards of $5 billion a year on freight and has forecasted annual trade could be boosted by $1.25 billion if transport costs were shaved by 10 per cent. There is a national interest issue at stake here.”
Therefore, O’Sullivan reckons, the greedy workers should accept a pay cut, so that the Port can cut its charges and importers and exporters could trade more stuff and we will all be richer (except the workers).
Except, as O’Sullivan knows full well, the Ports of Auckland make up only 3.5% of the $5 billion importers and exporters spend on freight. While freight costs, by the Productivity Commission’s numbers, are worth 6% of total trade, the cost of getting $26 billion worth of stuff through the Port is less than $175 million, or 0.6%. Knocking a fraction off that by cutting wages and passing the savings on (which isn’t the Port’s stated intent) would have no discernable effect on trade levels.
If you wanted to boost trade by knocking 10% off freight costs, the only way to do it would be to slash the price of oil. If freight costs are a barrier to trade (and the Productivity Commissions numbers don’t actually suggest they are a serious barrier), it’s not a few stevedores that is making some trade uneconomic, it’s peak oil.
To put it in a way that might grab O’Sullivan a little more personally. Her argument is like saying that New Zealand businesses spend $5 billion a year on advertising and, if only advertising were cheaper, businesses could sell more stuff. And then saying that, therefore, there is in the national interest in making advertising in the Herald cheaper by cutting the paper’s wage costs, starting with, say, senior businesses columnists who, I’m sure, pocket a lot more than $27 an hour. Funnily enough, I think O’Sullivan would see lots of holes in that argument.
So, you’ve got a few very wealthy elitists pointing at a bunch of working class people who get decent pay if they put in some serious hours of heavy physical labour and saying ‘they have it too good, cut their wages’. That’s the rightwing elite for you, of course. Gain is always for them. Pain is always for everyone else.
PS. Etheredge also came on The Standard to deny that the Port is paying Cameron Slater anything. Far be it from me to doubt the word of a well-paid spin-doctor. But, I wonder if she could answer one more question: How much does the Port project it would save on wages if its offer were to be accepted?