21 December 2011

Time to Break Port Strike

The time has come to break the strike at the port of Auckland. The Maritime Union is negotiating in bad faith and is bent on doing maximum damage to importers, exporters and everyone else in Auckland.

The Importers Institute does not, for obvious reasons, like this strike. But we would like it even less is we lived in a country where people are not allowed to strike. That is why we have consistently urged the parties to resolve their differences and have not taken sides. Until now.

The Union is not striking for better conditions for its members. It is protesting that the Port gave even better conditions to people who do not belong to the Union. Quite simply, it wants to retain a total monopoly on stevedoring and snuff out any possibility of the Port becoming more flexible and productive.

This is not a strike to protect Port workers. It is a strike to save the jobs and influence of the old geezers who make a living as union officials.

Both sides have engaged in spin. Shipping company Maersk came out and said its decision to move a service to Tauranga was influenced by the current disruption. This is simply not true. Decisions on port rotations have to be made months in advance. Maersk's contribution, eagerly seized on by the Port, was union-bashing, pure and simple. The fact that this particular union may deserve to be bashed does not change that fact.

The Port made it plain the union members have salaries in excess of $90,000, enjoy premium medical insurance and get paid for reduced hours. So what? Driving those container-straddling machines is a very skilled job and they have to work round the clock shifts. The pay does not seem excessive to us.

The Union complained bitterly that the Port had the temerity of writing to the workers direct pointing out the obvious: unless the operation becomes more flexible and productive, there could be redundancies. The Union called the letters "filthy, reprehensible and repugnant". What bollocks. They are nothing of the kind. Read them here and judge for yourself (h/t Whaleoil).

The Port has now offered a 10% pay increase. The Union responded by giving notice of yet another strike. It is not clear what the Union actually wants, except to ensure that it retains a total monopoly of stevedoring.

So, how do we go about breaking this strike? One option would be to do what President Regan did to striking air traffic controllers in the US thirty years ago. Sack the lot of them and employ new people. Unfortunately, John Key is no Reagan. He could, however, promote a law change to have union officials, who act in bad faith, held personally liable for the damage that they cause to others. We already have provisions to outlaw sympathy strikes, so this would merely be an extension.

The best route, however, would be for the Port of Auckland to simply make all members of the Union redundant and, like Tauranga, put its stevedoring out for competitive tender by private operators. The Labour politicians in the Auckland Council won't like it a bit, but will not ultimately have the political courage to stand in the way of management. There will be a period of disruption, no doubt, but as Qantas discovered, that is far preferable to a slow death at the hands of self-serving unionists. The Port can count on our support.