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Last ditch attempt to resume port negotiations

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Latest Auckland News | Sunday March 11 2012 6:30

Last ditch attempt to resume port negotiations

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An Auckland Councillor is making a last ditch attempt to get the Ports of Auckland and its workers back around the negotiating table.

Around 300 wharfies are set to lose their jobs after months of industrial action.

At a council meeting this Thursday, Richard Northey will be moving a resolution to ask Ports of Auckland and the Maritime Union to resume negotiations in good faith to achieve a collective agreement.

"I think they've given up too readily and I think that the disruption to the Auckland economy that will happen if the workers are made redundant is unnecessary," he says.

"As the body that owns the port of behalf of Aucklanders, hopefully our expression of view will be taken seriously by the Ports board, by the chief executive and by the Maritime Union."

Mr Northey says opposition will also be expressed to the redundancies and the contracting out of work.

But Ports of Auckland chairman Richard Pearson says the process has gone past the point of no return.

"You just can't put that toothpaste back in the tube, we have to now move ahead and do whatever we have to do to make that port operate."

Mr Pearson says the redundancies will cost at least $11 million, but the cost will be paid off within a year.

There are signs the dispute has the potential to spread further overseas.

Workers in Sydney have been refusing to unload a vessel which was worked on by non-union staff in Auckland.

Similar action was seen at Tauranga, Wellington and Lyttelton ports last week.

Maritime Union president Garry Parsloe says the Auckland port's decision to sack its staff is causing ripples.

"The incompetence of the CEO of this port and incompetence of the board has created an international problem now," he says.

"Not only did those ships sail around New Zealand and get held up everywhere, they're now going into the international, this is the start of something very big."

Mr Parsloe says it's heartening there's so much support for the workers who've been made redundant.

The Council of Trade Unions believes there's a lot of support locally and internationally for sacked Auckland wharfies.

Around 2,000 people including unionists from Australia and the US marched in the city yesterday to demonstrate against the sacking of the wharfies.

CTU president Helen Kelly says it shows the public is behind them.

"All they've got is their solidarity and the solidarity of other people in the city and this is one day but for weeks people have tooted as they've gone past their picket, dropped off food, given them money."

Ms Kelly says other countries have been watching how the dispute has evolved.

"They're wondering what the hell for the country it is where a group of workers can be sacked when their jobs are continuing," she says.

"The minute these workers are not on that port and other people are doing it, the jobs are continuing, it's not like they're disappearing.

She says they're wondering how a publicly owned organisation like Ports of Auckland can behave like this.

Meanwhile Ports of Auckland has taken out full-page newspaper ads to put its side in the wharfies dispute.

Chairman Richard Pearson has written what he calls an "Open Letter to Aucklanders".

He says the decision to sack workers and bring in competitive stevedoring wasn't taken lightly.

Mr Pearson says it's time for change at the port, and the need for it has been clearly flagged by customers.

He says workers were offered a 10 percent wage increase, productivity bonuses of up to 20 percent, 160 hours per month and rosters a month in advance.

"There's been huge public interest about what's going on in the port and we felt this was one way of getting that information out so people would know why we got to where we are and what we look like going forward."

Mr Pearson says he doesn't know how much the ads cost.

Photo: Edward Swift

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