Ports of Auckland’s agenda: Casualisation, union-busting and privatisation

As the dispute between Ports of Auckland Ltd Board and management and the Maritime Union’s members continues, I’m starting to question whether there’s a less obvious agenda in play than the one espoused by Ports of Auckland management.

Ports of Auckland have consistently said that they want to increase productivity. However the hardline approach and lack of flexibility from the CEO, Tony Gibson, has resulted in days lost to strikes, and now the threat of a lock out doesn’t create a productive workforce.   I wonder what the management’s real aims are, given that the company had previously drawn up a strategy to contract out the workforce, and Tony Gibson is threatening to call for expressions of interest while the contract talks were stalled.  This is hardly ‘good faith bargaining’ – and it quite likely breaches the existing industrial relations laws.

If the Board and management of POA were so concerned about increasing productivity and increasing the profit margins, how could they possibly consider a spend of $5million on redundancies – and potentially much higher costs resulting from legal action from the Maritime Union?

In the mainstream media comparisons are being drawn between the Port of Tauranga and Ports of Auckland.  Tauranga is partially privatised and has a casualised workforce.  Undoubtedly, it is cheaper to offload freight at Tauranga. However, companies like Fonterra who have chosen to move their operations are actually subsidised by taxpayers who pick up the externalised costs of moving that freight further by paying for the roading maintenance and railway infrastructure. Taxpayers pick up other costs too. Casualised workforces have poorer health and safety procedures – in the last five years three workers have died at the Port of Tauranga.

My concerns are that the real agenda is about breaking  the Maritime Union and reducing  the working conditions of the Port workers, but also it’s about privatising our assets and undermining the new Supercity structure.  POA is wholly owned by the Auckland Council, but its Board was appointed by the Directors of Auckland Council Investments Limited, who were in turn appointed by   privatisation advocate and former Local Government Minister Rodney Hide rather than by anyone democratically elected by the people of Auckland.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown was elected in 2010 on a promise he would resist asset sales.  Christine Fletcher, who leads the right wing minority Citizens and Ratepayers bloc on the Auckland Council, has already signalled that she believes selling at least some of the Ports of Auckland will, in her opinion, make vast improvements at the Ports.

This is the same as the National Party propaganda  the government is promulgating for the sale of  our energy companies – that the private sector is better at managing our state-owned (and council owned) assets.  And this is despite reports from the energy companies that their returns are excellent and from the Ports of Auckland that their returns have improved dramatically over the last few years as well.

On the Auckland waterfront, the Auckland Council and its Mayor have already endured meddling from the National government with Murray McCully snubbing Mayor Brown and issuing directives over Queens Wharf after the opening of the Rugby World Cup.  And the Mayor and the former Transport Minister Stephen Joyce have also clashed when the Minister refused to prioritise the Inner City Rail Link as part of the Auckland Plan.   The forced amalgamation that led to the Auckland Council was sold to the people of Auckland on the basis that the Supercity would ensure a better relationship with the government – and we’d have one voice for all of Auckland.  The trouble is the National-led government doesn’t like that voice.

John Key’s government has meddled in union matters before – they changed the law around contractors and employees on the behest of an international movie company in 2010.  But this time they would do well to stay out of the Ports of Auckland dispute. It’s not just capital that has global interests and connections – organised labour has too!

25 thoughts on “Ports of Auckland’s agenda: Casualisation, union-busting and privatisation

  1. Prophetic last sentence from Denise: “It’s not just capital that has global interests and connections – organised labour has too!”

    Today we see the potential ramifications of that:

    Emerging from a meeting with international dockers trade union representatives at the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) in London today, ITF president and MUA (Maritime Union of Australia) general secretary Paddy Crumlin, and ITF general secretary David Cockroft warned that the Port of Auckland is on the brink of being declared a ‘port of convenience’.

    If the ITF declares Ports of Auckland to be a “port of convenience” the Auckland Council’s investment in it goes down the gurgler. Major shipping lines won’t risk moving freight through Auckland for fear of retaliatory action by workers in ports overseas that move 10 or 20 times more freight a year than PoAL does.

    It is time for the PoAL Board to see some sense, and for Mayor Len Brown and the Auckland Council, as PoAL’s owners, to give the PoAL Board a clear steer on this – employees’ wages and conditions should not be sacrificed. There are many other ways than screwing their employees for PoAL to improve productivity.

  2. Back in 2009 I had a series of letters published in the Press wherein I outlined the hidden agenda of the NACTs to privatize the POA; the gist being that having driven the Auckland Super City into debt, financial jiggery-pokery would be used to force privatization. The financial manipulation is now evident.

    To pay the costs of amalgamation the city council has been forced to double the dividend demanded from POA taking it from 5 to 10%. This is a variation on the notion of “maximizing shareholder value” (which the originator of the term, a former GE chairman, now considers to be the dumbest idea in the world). One of the consequences of maximizing the return on investment is cutting reinvestment in port facilities.

    Another is to apply Ricardo’s dictum that the only way to increase the rate of profit is to reduce the labour costs, hence the obduracy of POA in the ongoing labour negotiations and casualization of the work. This of course fed into a behind the scenes push to deliberately drive business to other ports (Fonterra and Merkel) so that the POA profit would drop allowing the claim that privatization was needed to restore profitability; and with reduced income to Auckland City council, they would have little option but to partially sell the port.

  3. Great to see Denise and the Greens actually taking sides in the dispute and supporting workers fighting for decent, full time jobs, while Labour continues its long discredited tradition of “being neither for nor against” (their slogan from the 1951 waterside lockout), as if socially just outcomes can be obtained by dithering on the sidelines.

  4. Good coverage in this morning’s Herald, Denise:

    Both National and Labour and even the Act Party are refusing to get off the fence over the ongoing Ports of Auckland industrial dispute, saying it is a matter for management and the Maritime Union to resolve.

    The Green Party however, has come out swinging, with industrial relations spokeswoman and former Auckland City councillor Denise Roche accusing management of having a “recalcitrant attitude” which masks an agenda to privatise the port.

    Great to see the Greens taking a stand on this. To go into industrial negotiations with the nuclear option of sacking the entire workforce already a key part of the employer’s strategy, as the draft memo you linked to shows PoAL clearly did, shows absolute contempt for the principle of good faith bargaining.

  5. To state the obvious, most if not all people on the boards also have full-time jobs they do and get paid to do, do any of them donate the pay for their part-time board work?

    None of that is double dipping, it’s just being paid for the work one does.

    Double dipping is not about being paid for doing extra work, such as Ministers being paid more than MP’s because of the extra portfolio work, but about claiming a housing allowance to live in house one already owned (pay the mortgage to enable ownership of a second home or to just live in a home already owned).

  6. Matt, I understand Denise intended to resign sooner, but wanted to make a final speech which requires she be a member until the Board’s next meeting in early Feb. Hence she has donated her salary in the meantime.

  7. I suppose I should have expanded and said Sam Lotu-Iiga was criticised for not turning up to board meetings and for being asleep in parliament, indicating he was doing neither job properly …

    Given she has been attending board meetings, and parliament is not yet back in operation, that was hardly the situation here.

    I find it interesting that some people (given the downticking) have objections to people being paid for doing part-time work while having a full-time job – what about claiming super while working full-time then?

    What about people receiving two paid positions by government appointment as cronies of the National Party?

    Many people have to work extra jobs just to pay their way … is that double-dipping?

  8. i took it upon myself to post that rebuttal @ slaters’..

    ..it really pisses me off how slater and farrar just make shit up..

    ..and then repeat it endlessly..

    ..using repetition to cement those lies..

    ..it’s best to call them on their lies s soon as possible..

    ..i reckon..

    ..tho’ a press-release back then might have been useful..eh..?

    ..as this is a question that was going to come up..

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

  9. Frog,

    The point is that she should have resigned immediately. It is the perception of double dipping that is damaging.

    If you leave the door open, the Whale will come crashing through …

  10. MC, SPC:

    For the record, Denise intends to resign as an Auckland Council Local Board member following her Board’s next meeting in early February. Since she was elected to Parliament she has donated all of her Local Board salary to three separate community groups, and will continue to do so until her resignation next month.

    Cameron Slater could have just asked her, but instead chose in his usual modus operandi to maliciously speculate in the hope that some mud sticks.

  11. MC, Sam Lotu-Iiga was criticised for not turning up to meetings, that is the real issue, whether both jobs can be done, not whether one is paid for doing both.

  12. There are people who work full-time and also do part-time jobs.

    A board member is a part-time job.

    If people can be MP’s and also do the work of a Cabinet Minister, they can certainly be an MP and do a part-time job like member of a board.

    PS double dipping is not about working and getting paid for two jobs, it’s about such things as claiming an allowance to live in a home that is owned by you and on which you make a CG (untaxed).

  13. dbuckly posted an “intersting article” in which 20 of the 148 Community Board Members defend MUNZ, and what is interesting is Cameron Slaters observation that one of these CBM, Denise Roache, appears to be doubledipping as a Green MP: http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/2012/01/denise-roche-double-dipper/

    Cameron notes “As a backbench List MP, Roche would be earning $135,000 pa, more or less, plus perks like free phones, travel etc. As a local board member, Roche would be earning around $35,000 pa, more of less, plus perks like free cellphone, free laptop etc. So, questions for the media to ask:
    Given that Denise Roche has not resigned as a local board member since becoming a MP, is she drawing both incomes? Has she been keeping the extra money, or is she giving it away to a charity (like Sam Lotu-Iiga did) Is she keeping 2 laptops, 2 phones etc?”

  14. Interesting article:

    Auckland board members weigh in on port dispute

    From Stuff.

    A united front of Auckland local board members has called on the Ports of Auckland to drop plans to outsource jobs and return to good faith bargaining with the Maritime Union.

    In an unprecedented move, 28 board members from 10 different boards have come together to express their concern about actions being taken by port management which they believe are inflaming the industrial dispute, particularly what appears to be a pre-determined strategy to contract out jobs.

  15. I suspect this issue is playing right into the Key-party’s right-wing agenda.. privatise & user pays.. with all workers on fixed term contract & day labourer status ?!

    Kia-ora

  16. and do you really think that when the international union movement sees that leaked memo/plan to crush the auckland wharfies’ union..

    ..that we won’t be facing a trade/imports/exports-boycott of sorts..?

    ..’cos if you do think that..

    ..you are in denial..

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

  17. r.s. said:..’I thought the Greens were suppossed to be above partisanship.Neither left nor right but out in front?’..

    ..aren’t you more asking for a ‘get in behind..!’..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

  18. r.s said:..”..I find it so curious that so many otherwise rational and politically savvy people find it all too easy to see vast conspiracies when there are probably none…”

    so..how does the leaked memo detailing what would happen fit with yr ‘non-conspiracy’-theory..?

    ..best just ignored..?

    http://whoar.co.nz/2012/matt-mccarten-its-time-to-step-up-mr-mayor/

    (excerpt..)

    “..But then this whole dispute is manufactured by Gibson and his political masters.

    Last week I accused the chief executive and the political cronies appointed by Rodney Hide to the port’s board of having a secret agenda to privatise the port.

    To do that, they first needed to smash the wharfies’ union – and replace the workforce with compliant contractors.

    This week the pretence was dropped.

    On Thursday a secret management “strategy report”, written months ago, was leaked to the union.

    The company was prepared to spend $9 million of ratepayers’ money to orchestrate a smashing of its workforce.

    The report’s main recommendations have all happened.

    When caught out, the company fudged by saying it was only a discussion document – and the author no longer worked for the port.

    Oh, please!..”

    ..mmm..??

    yr thoughts/comments there..r.s..on that leaked memo..?

    ..a casual reading seems to indicate all you deny..

    ..eh..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

  19. You wrote that “Fonterra who have chosen to move their operations are actually subsidised by taxpayers who pick up the externalised costs of moving that freight further by paying for the roading maintenance and railway infrastructure.”

    That statement is a little wrong.

    Fonterra’s production bases are closer to Tauranga and Napier.

    Fonterra already has a train that runs from Hawera to Palmerston North and from Napier to Palmerston North. This change will be help improve those rail links due to it sustaining regular rail freight services.

    Forterras factories in the Hamilton/ Bay of Plenty are also closer to Tauranga than to Auckland.

    So if your say it’s costing tax payers more is wrong as it’s costing tax payers less due to the new shorter distances.

  20. I find it so curious that so many otherwise rational and politically savvy people find it all too easy to see vast conspiracies when there are probably none.

    I agree with Denise and sincerely hope that there is no move on the part of POA management or the board of ACIL to strip Auckland of its assets, especially something as vital as its port.

    However, what I dont agree is the assumption that the current dispute is all part of some grand plan on the part of Rodney Hide and National to sell off our civic assets from beyond the political grave. Absolutely, he had the opportunity to set the character of the initial boards of the CCOs, but ultimately these organisations are responsible to the mayor, council and people of Auckland. Either way its an interesting test of the new governance model.

    I thought the Greens were suppossed to be above partisanship.Neither left nor right but out in front?

  21. she believes selling at least some of the Ports of Auckland will, in her opinion, make vast improvements at the Ports

    Considering how the Port of Tauranga is performing, and considering how the Ports of Auckland has performed since 2005, I suspect that Councillor Fletcher is absolutely correct. At least she is not suggesting that the Ports of Auckland do something that would probably get them into trouble with the Commerce Commission, as what Councillor Lee has suggested.

    And this is despite reports from the energy companies that their returns are excellent

    The best performing electrical company is listed (Trust Power) and the two worst performing electrical companies are state owned (Genesis and another one), so I am going to disagree.

    If you don’t believe me, take a look at what Pricewaterhouse Coopers had to say.

    However, companies like Fonterra who have chosen to move their operations are actually subsidised by taxpayers who pick up the externalised costs of moving that freight further by paying for the roading maintenance and railway infrastructure.

    And how would that be any different to the situation at the moment? In case you forgot, Fonterra has to ship their stuff to Auckland at the moment from farm country, and they would still be doing that with a Tauranga operation. Incidentally, I suspect that there would be less transportation required to Tauranga since Tauranga is closer to major dairy plants such as the one just north of Cambridge.

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