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Vol. 76/No. 12      March 26, 2012

New Zealand port workers
stand up to union busting
Bosses demand ‘flexible’ work schedule
(front page)
AUCKLAND, New Zealand—Three thousand people marched for two hours along the waterfront here March 10 to support striking port workers. A few days later, Ports of Auckland formally announced that it is hiring three contracting companies to take the place of nearly 300 members of the Maritime Union of New Zealand.

The port workers began their strike Feb. 24 after months of contract negotiations. Union members refused to accept the bosses’ demands for “flexible” work schedules instead of eight-hour shifts. Workers say that this would mean their shift could last as little as three hours or as much as 12, and start times could be changed on just five hours’ notice.

Chanting, “Contracting out has got to go!” demonstrators were joined by representatives of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and delegations from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the United States and the Maritime Union of Australia.

Ports of Auckland, which is owned by the city council, is campaigning to win support for its union-busting moves. Because of the “global financial crisis,” shipping companies are “increasing use of vessel sharing arrangements” meaning “larger ships, less often,” the company says on its website.

“On a busy day we may need a full complement of staff, but fewer than 15 people when no ships are in port,” Richard Pearson, chairman of Ports of Auckland, said in a statement. He complained that the port workers’ wages “are some of the best in the country.”

Since the union would not agree to the bosses’ demands, the port decided March 7 to “introduce competitive stevedoring,” he said.

“We’re hopeful that some of the existing workers will join in the new businesses,” Mike Huddlestone of AWF Group, one of the contractors, told the press.

Among the demonstrators March 10 were busloads of workers from meatpacking plants at Rangiuru and Horotiu, where the AFFCO company has locked out hundreds of workers in a contract dispute. Melissa Wharakura, a worker in the offal room at Horotiu, told the Militant that she “came because we have companies getting rid of our unions.”

Ben Robertson, a worker on the wharf in Sydney, Australia, said he was one of around 20 union members who traveled to New Zealand for the rally. If the bosses succeed in their assaults on workers’ rights, he said, there will be “a ripple-on effect: it will go on to Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We have to support them now, not tomorrow.”
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