Red and Starry Eyed | Issue 5

On Ports of Auckland

Unions must keep on fighting!

The Ports of Auckland dispute has hit the media like a wildfire, with ideological differences underpinning all coverage of the dispute. The issue is both complicated and serious. If the port wins, it will be a significant blow to the union movement in New Zealand and could set a precedent for many other businesses.

The workers and the union representing them, MUNZ, have been asking that improved work conditions be signed into the negotiations that have been going on for 8 months. The Port, however, wants to make hours more casual and it wants to impose work conditions that could mean the wharfies would get little time off.

The Port cut short the bargaining by trying to sack the almost 300 workers involved. Whether it can legally do so will be decided by the Employment court.

John Key says New Zealand businesses need to be competitive in the international scene. However if this competition deprives people from fair work, fair pay and fair holidays, we are really just sacrificing the wellbeing of Kiwis and their families. While the Greens are correct in saying the union position is about secure and decent working conditions, Labour has taken months to find a stance. Instead of supporting the workers and the unions, which give them a large share of voters, Shearer and his bunch have been eyeing up business interests. Shearer & co. would rather a compromise where the workers will undoubtedly be at a disadvantage.

The right says the wharfies earn too much and that more casual hours will benefit business interests in the current rut the economy finds itself in. Lies – the $90,000 salaries the stevedores receive reflect the higher costs of living in Auckland. Moreover, safe working conditions with good pay should be the norm rather than the exception. Every worker wants to know whether they will have enough work to feed the family next week. Many have also said working at the wharves is unskilled labour, and therefore it doesn’t matter if workers are sacked. This implies that unskilled labourers should not have the same rights to job security as the rest. It forgets the dangerous working conditions at the port, and the many weeks of in-work training any new worker receives.

If the Port simply accepted the modest proposals asked for by MUNZ, this dispute would not have lost it millions of dollars in negotiations in the first place.

Red and Starry Eyed
This article first appeared in Issue 5, 2012.
Posted 4:26pm Sunday 25th March 2012 by Red and Starry Eyed.