Earlier this year an attempt to contract out union work at Ports of Auckland (PoA) led to a strong union fight-back, to which management responded with a lockout. The lockout dragged on for months, management refusing to back down on its demands for individual contracts and greater ‘flexibility’ of labour. During this time port workers were stretched to the limit, eating up savings and strike funds to survive without regular wages, while the Ports of Auckland management eat up Auckland ratepayers’ money on fighting the union with advertising and PR advisers. Though the lockout ended in April, with the Maritime Union of New Zealand and PoA management agreeing to return to good-faith bargaining, little has happened since then.
As sole shareholder in the Ports through the ACIL Company, the Auckland City Council called for ACIL to face its Accountability and Performance Committee in September.
After the Employment Relations Authority rejected the union’s request to take the dispute to court, many were hopeful that ACIL CEO Gary Swift would at least be held accountable by the council for prolonging the lockout and refusing to accept the union’s opposition to contracting out work at PoA.
Instead Swift fronted up with the bureaucratic equivalent of the middle finger, saying that ACIL owns the port, not the council, even though the council owns ACIL. Despite a leaked email showing his high-level involvement in management of the lockout crisis, Swift refused to reveal how much fighting the union cost the company, and hence the council, claiming it was inappropriate for the council to be told those figures.
In the absence of a new collective agreement, the status quo of following the old agreement will expire by the end of September, leaving PoA workers more vulnerable than ever to out-sourcing work to those on individual contracts with lower wages, less guarantees of conditions and less security of hours and employment.
It is highly suspicious that bargaining since April has moved so slowly, especially with the union agreeing to many of managements demands for higher flexibility in work hours, despite the damage such employer-dictated terms may do to their conditions and work-life balance. One suspects ACIL has simply stalled negotiations to get past the collective’s expiry, meaning the coming months will be telling. Though PoA management will not want strikes or lockouts over the Christmas period, further attacks on collective negotiation are possible and it will be up to the Maritime Union of New Zealand, the wider union movement, and all concerned New Zealanders who don’t want their fellow workers sold up the river, to militantly fight any attacks on workers’ rights on the streets and docks of Auckland.