The latest twist in this long saga is that the Port will allow the strikers to return to work next week and continue to go through a mediation process for a few more weeks, until the middle of May.
The Union has not made any public commitment to abandon its wish to keep restrictive work practises and the Port has not abandoned the intention to move to the competitive model used by efficient ports.
There are three scenarios for importers to consider:
1. Shipping companies may not be interested in returning to Auckland until they have assurances that their ships will not be delayed by more industrial action. We expect that they will hold off for a while before making firm commitments.
2. The Union may come to its senses under pressure from political supporters and its own members (who have now lost more than one month’s wages) and agree to the conditions offered earlier by the Port. If that happens, the Port’s plans to move to a competitive model may go on hold for a while and normal service could be resumed.
3. On the other hand, the Union could well continue to do what it does best, which is to push ahead with strikes and hope for support from sympathetic politicians (this Government’s inaction is pretty much a given). If that happens, by mid-May we will be precisely where we are now.
Our main concern is that, after four weeks on strike, other ports in New Zealand are coming to their cargo handling limits, as is our sub-standard road and rail infrastructure. We are perilously close to ships bypassing New Zealand altogether.
Within the next week or two, we expect to have more clarity. We will need to keep an eye on which ships will come back to Auckland. The best source for that information is here.