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!