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Vol. 76/No. 10      March 12, 2012

Port workers in New Zealand
strike over new ‘labor model’
AUCKLAND, New Zealand—More than 300 workers at the container wharves here went on strike Feb. 24 to block attempts by the Ports of Auckland to impose “a new labour model” that would allow bosses to change work schedules on short notice.

The port’s labor contract expired Sept. 30 and the company, which is owned by the city council, is demanding the union agree to flexible work rosters in place of the present eight-hour shifts.

Ports of Auckland Chief Executive Officer Tony Gibson said Jan. 12 that with negotiations no closer to resolution, the port was looking at contracting out the work presently done by permanent employees.

The Maritime Union of New Zealand has said the strike is planned to last three weeks.

Daniel Silver, secretary of the Importer’s Institute, told Radio New Zealand Feb. 24 that the government should “break the strike.”

Port workers, family members and other union supporters held an expanded picket line and picnic on the weekend after the strike began. Grant Dungan, a stevedore, told the Militant that the company had proposed a 10 percent wage rise in exchange for the concessions on work hours. “People might think we’re crazy to turn down 10 percent, especially in these economic times,” he said. “But it’s nothing to do with the money. It’s got to do with working conditions and your ability to see your family.

“At present, we get every third weekend off,” Dungan said. “They want to change this with 24 hours’ notice. The shifts would be between three and 12 hours. And they could change your start time with five hours’ notice.”

Auckland is New Zealand’s largest container port, handling 37 percent of total container trade.

The company argues that labor productivity in Auckland is lower than at the port in Tauranga, its main competitor. Ports of Auckland did not respond to requests by the Militant for an interview.

“Time for port union to come to its senses,” read the headline on a Feb. 25 editorial in the New Zealand Herald. The article noted that Mayor Len Brown, a Labour Party politician, backed the city council demands for a “much better than 6 per cent return on investment in the port.”

The union has been working to shore up solidarity with port unions in Australia and other countries. Pickets said they are confident that union action at the docks in other countries would thwart any attempt by the company to work ships with the 70 nonunion workers still operating equipment.

Meanwhile, the meat export company AFFCO has announced it will lock out 762 workers in five plants on Feb. 29. “The lockout demands of the company are very similar to those being demanded of the workers at the Port of Auckland,” said Meat Workers Union Secretary Dave Eastlake in a Feb. 25 statement.
Related articles:
Caravan builds support for locked-out workers
Kicks off with sugar workers’ rally in Minn.far
‘We need to enforce safety codes’ on the docks
On the Picket Line
Locked-out Ohio tire workers vote for contract  
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