On the Picket Line

Port workers in New Zealand strike for safety, pay parity

By Patrick Brown
and Baskaran Appu
April 16, 2018

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Some 90 dockworkers marched through the port town of Lyttelton March 22, day two of a five-day strike for pay parity with other port workers and against changes to working hours by the Lyttelton Port Company. The workers are organized by the Rail and Maritime Transport Union.

“We organize activities to keep us strong and active,” RMTU executive member and crane driver Polly Bysterveld told the Militant March 23. Two weeks earlier workers rallied outside the offices of the Christchurch City Council, which owns the port.

The bosses are demanding a free hand in setting work hours. They want “to bring forward or extend any shift by up to four hours,” said RMTU organizer John Kerr. “You might not know until you started your shift if it would be extended.”

“It’s not just about the money,” said Bysterveld. “It’s about sleep patterns, fatigue, and health and safety.” In 2014 port maintenance worker Brad Fletcher was killed when a scissor-lift toppled over.

Last year the company reached agreement on work schedules with the Maritime Union of New Zealand, which covers about half of the 400 workers on the docks and tugs.

Their contract includes pay raises of 4 percent this year and 3 percent for each of the next two years. The company has said it will grant the RMTU workers the same wage increases if they sign on to more flexible shifts.

Strikers told us that Maritime Union of New Zealand members, while continuing to work, support the RMTU actions. The RMTU has received solidarity from unions organizing nurses, meatpackers and dairy workers. Lyttelton Port ranks third among container ports across the country.

“If we win this it will be an example for others,” said Brian Cunard, a maintenance worker at the port for 12 years.