Dairy Workers National Secretary James Ritchie gives a $10,000 cheque to striking Ports of Auckland stevedore Ken Ziegler. Ken is a delegate and executive member of Maritime Union of New Zealand Local 13.

By James Ritchie, National Secretary of the New Zealand Dairy Worker’s Union

Readers of the Dairy Worker will be familiar with our concerns over many years about the destruction of permanent jobs (casualisation), the selling of publicly held assets into private hands (privatisation) and attempts to remove a union from the workplace (de-unionisation).

This dispute has them all –it is the perfect storm.

The Maritime Union of NZ (MUNZ) has been trying to renegotiate its collective agreement with the Ports of Auckland since April 2011.

The employer wants increased ‘flexibility’ which means reduction in guaranteed hours and having workers waiting for their mobile phone to ring to ask them to come to work. Workers were offered a 10% pay increase for 30 months to give up their security of guaranteed working hours. The union is seeking an increase of 2.5% for 12 months.

And the Ports of Auckland has solid backing from the Productivity Commission which was set up as part of the National Government’ s confidence and supply agreement with ACT.

The Productivity Commission report stated that “Union activity is undermining competition and productivity at New Zealand ports and the Government should review legislation to tackle the problem”

The Commission recommends the Government reviews whether existing legislation is sufficient to effectively regulate barriers to competition that arise as a result of union activity.

What does this mean? It means that Government is being lobbied hard to declare that joining with other workers in a union to bargain wages and conditions collectively is “anti competitive behaviour and should be a breach of the Commerce Act”

And what does that mean? It means that the Government is being asked to regulate to make it clear that the right to allow competition over setting wages and conditions(casualisation and removing unions) is more important than the universal United Nations guaranteed right to join a union and bargain collectively.

This is how extreme these people are. They don’t care if workers can never plan to support their children at sport, never afford a holiday and can never get a loan from a bank because they don’t have permanent employment.

The Shipping Companies charge up to 5 times more than they do in Australia and this is a major cost for New Zealand exporters and importers. This is where the focus should be rather than on attacking the workers.

Meanwhile, the productivity rates at the Port are amongst the best anywhere in the world.

The Port is making a return of 6% profit for Auckland City and it is currently providing decent jobs.

The City wants to double its financial return – not a feasible option with current shipping charges, and even if it was, is it worth the destruction of good jobs and the eventual privatisation of the Port?

Aucklanders are starting to wake up to the choices here. One choice is a port which provides safe and secure permanent work for 300 workers and their families and provides a healthy dividend to ratepayers. The other choice is a Port which provides less safe, low paid, casual work and is sold off to private investors.

After many months of negotiations and mediation the union offered greater flexibility in the length of shifts which, if accepted by the employer, would deliver the cost efficiencies they said they were seeking.

However, the Ports of Auckland – owned by the ratepayers of Auckland, decided through its Board and CEO, that what they really wanted was to sack all members of MUNZ at a cost of $9m to Aucklanders and contract all the work out to competing stevedore companies who would hire casual labour and compete with each other by driving down labour costs.

The Port Company is now going through phoney consultation before they move to sack the entire unionised workforce. The union members have no option but to strike to try and force their employer back to the negotiating table to settle a collective agreement rather than being dismissed and have their work contracted out.

These workers have jobs similar to many Dairy Workers. It is rostered shift work with pay and conditions which provide a secure income. They work for a profitable company in which there are joint efforts to improve productivity. They have a union which regularly negotiates a collective agreement which improves and protects wages and conditions.

The Board of the Ports of Auckland and their friends in Government and big business want to destroy all of this.

If these workers can have their secure jobs and incomes destroyed, it can happen to you.

They have no option but to fight – they need your support.

I hope by the time you read this, the dispute has been resolved and the workers have retained permanent employment and have a union negotiated collective agreement.

If not the fight is still on. The wharfies need our help.

Which side are you on?