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.


  1. Strike breaking by redundancy is not an option as New Zealand does not have a hire at will fire at will employment policy that the US does, Long and costly legal battles the benefit nobody would be the results of that action in New Zealand

    While have a sole unionized provider for stevedoring at a port may not be the lowest cost it offers a significant number of advantages to the port operator and port users with the control or elimination of grey costs. The ability of port users to predict costs and to have a repeatable level of safety, security and service will outweigh any disadvantages in the short term.

    The full deregulation of stevedoring is fraught with pitfalls work tends to go to the lowest cost and often lowest performance provider, grey costs blow out and transit damage and losses quickly increasing increase insurance costs low repeatability and quality of service suffer making for an importer's worst nightmare, unfortunately there are far too may company's similar in ethics to ABBA logistics and all the dozens of others that simply see freight and ports as cash cows happy to relieve importers of every last dollar they can, by locking them out of an important part of the chain it gives a level of service and cost that while it may not be what an importer want it is something they can predict and work with.

  2. As a importer I am horrifies you may have woken a sleeping giant by supporting a policy that attacks an ITF affiliated Union.
    The ITF was the the cause of a ship of New zealand kiwi fruit loaded by non union workers rot on board a ship in Japan.
    The ITF got Maesk (The largest shipping company in the world) to bypass Napier when they did what you suggest and hire private companies to do stevedore work. This went on for months causing massive disruption to both importers and exporters and no doubt the Hawkes bay economy.
    When Patricks in Australia had there lockout in the late ninties a ship loaded by non union labour went to the USA the ship sat there for weeks before returning to Australia to be discharged the reloaded (By UNION WORKERS) before it could return to the USA.
    Do you really want to antaganise the ITF.If so don't do at the importers cost which you certainly are at the moment.
    If you have to pick a side pick the winning one which is not the one you have at the moment!!!

  3. Topic is very good, Thank you very much for your information, nice job keep it up.
    import Australia

  4. Hi There

    There are always two sides of the story.
    I personally know one of the staff and can comment as follows:

    * Figures of staff on income on 90k per annum - Untrue, only the top skilled staff are paid at $24 per hour - You work out how many hours that would take to make 90k per annum.

    * 10% pay rise offered by union - over 30 months and subject to a few more conditions.
    * Staff just want job security - no more, no less.

    Under the new terms of POAL, Flexibility to hire and contract out means less opportunities for employed staff.

    * POAL have contracted out to conlinx which funny enough is headed by the same management of POAL - Makes you wonder???

    If we copy the same model as Tauranga - How many ACC claims and deaths should we expect from AKL Port - Check out how many accidents and deaths have occured at Tauranga since they made this a private enterprise.

    POAL should remain with the people of Auckland for all to benefit.

    The team of Importers Institute should investigate fully from both sides of the issue and not just preach what is published by POAL communications dept.

    Final comment - We the Auckland rate payers should be pushing our council and government to end the strike action.

  5. Excellent piece VOR. Unfortunately alot of people do not have the foresight you have when it comes to dealing with an ITF affiliated union.You have hit the nail on the head. If this goes down the path the Institute wants, then the Port will be declared a Port of Convenience, and then NO ships will come to Auckland. How will the importers/exporters feel then.The only way is for the two parties to get back to some serious negotiations and meet in the middle.

  6. What's the over time policy like? I doubt many at all are making 90k off $24/hr doing by doing 70+ hours. (There will be some) I'd suggest without any facts that the system is getting milked. What's wrong with contractors and private enterprise? RFP, it’s how it is. Market rates these days.
    The media has a very one-eyed view of this and I suspect the ports can’t fully disclose the other side.


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