Red Alert

The mayor, the port, and the wharfies

Posted by on February 29th, 2012

Len Brown was elected the people’s mayor on a wave of support across west and south Auckland. People opted decisively for his plan for public transport, and a modern inclusive vision for the city that embraced the young, the brown and working people.

Which makes it puzzling that he is choosing to stand by and watch while his port subsidiary tries to contract out 300 jobs.

Len Brown is one of the few people with a lever to pull in this situation. He is the shareholder. He and the Council bear a large part of the responsibility for the dispute because their demand for a 12% return on capital from the ports handed the Ports board the justification to embark on this drive to casualise its workforce. The 12% demand is ridiculous. No other port in Australasia achieves this. Few if any companies in the transport and logistics sector achieve it. The current return is 6% and the ports of Tauranga, poster child for port productivity, only gets 6.3%.

It is all the more puzzling given the Mayor’s commitment to reducing social inequality, reflected in the excellent Auckland Plan. It is hard to see how we are going to build a more prosperous and inclusive city by stripping the city’s employees of their work rights and job security.

With the port company intent on contracting out, the wharfies now have nothing to lose. The current strike is due to continue for two more weeks. Disruption will likely go on for months. The financial cost to the ports, and the economic disruption to Auckland’s economy will be significant.

It is time for Len Brown and his Council to rethink their demand for a 12% return, and replace it with something reasonable and not excessive. He should tell the port company casualisation is not an acceptable approach to employment relations in a port owned by the people of Auckland.

The union has already agreed to almost all the company’s demands for greater labour flexibility designed to increase the labour utilisation rate and improve productivity. The company and union should get back to the table and settle so everyone can get back to work.

Len Brown is a good man. His Auckland Plan and advocacy for the City Rail Link is the kind of leadership the city has been crying out for. But if the port company’s crude union busting succeeds in casualising its workforce on his watch it will be a stain on his legacy.

61 Responses to “The mayor, the port, and the wharfies”

  1. Jenny says:

    The Mayor has boasted that he could settle this dispute if he so chose.

    “The issue is, there is a huge temptation for me to throw myself into the middle of this, and I could.
    “As the mayor of this city I’ve got a mandate and we certainly have the power because the company is 100% owned by our council on behalf of you all, and so I could get in amongst that.

    Len Brown, Council Transcript PDF

    `The real challenge if I step into this, we have six other companies that we own that manage Auckland assets, like Watercare and Auckland Transport.
    “Every time they have a problem, do I step myself into that?

    Len Brown, Council Transcript PDF

    The Mayor’s excuse for not intervening is spurious at best. ie that if he intervened in the Ports dispute, he would have to interfere in every other labour management dispute.

    Well, maybe he should.
    But even if, as a rule, he shouldn’t, this is not just any labour Management dispute. The potential damage to the region if the dispute continues is immense. If the Mayor continues to stand aloof and let the damage that this dispute could do to the Auckland region continue, it could be argued that it is a dereliction of his duty as Mayor.

    Phil, do you support the idea of multi-party delegation to the Mayor, calling on him to act to end this dispute?

  2. Augustine says:

    Interesting that people consider $27 an hour to drive a straddle as greedy yet have no problem with the CEO earning $15,000 a week. There would be plenty of other people who would be capable of doing the CEO’s job and probably for a lot less money. On top of Gibsons salary the port has also hired Jon Mayson and Rod Lingard, no doubt at huge expense, to push through their agenda. Surely if Gibson was worth $750k they wouldnt need to spend an additional fortune on consultants.

    @RegistryAdmin – Dave is not repeating the “facts” of the situation, he is stating his opinion. You are the person who diverted the subject making sweeping claims about “rampant” racism and sexism.

    @ Dave – the strike is not over more money, and the salary of the union president has been quoted in the NZ Herald, sorry to disappoint you but it wasn’t an outrageous sum of money.

  3. RegistryAdmin says:

    @Augustine – Independently verified figures have a very common characteristic of being fact.
    We also know that of 300 odd stevedores there are only two females employed. Sounds like sexism to me. There was also a recent video of a former union member who has confirmed racism within the union. I also refer you to an article from last year (

    Completely unacceptable working conditions.

  4. al1ens says:

    “Dave is on the ball with this one”

    But unfortunately playing a different game than the rest of us.

    So 90% of kiwis don’t “pull down that kind of money” and are greedy when they want to.
    What happened to ‘aspirational’? Or is that only for the scum that steal $1000pw from the public purse in undeserved tax cuts?

    $750k a year, and one pigs ear of right wing agenda later, the only man who deserves a huge pay cut is the nob in the office playing chicken with the wharfies.

  5. Tracey says:

    Does anyone support a multi-party delegation to the Employment Minister (Mr Joyce) calling on them to end the dispute?

  6. Alby says:

    Get off the stage Hone there are enough clowns in this circus. I cough at you getting involved in a Union dispute.

    Fortunately the waters are  becoming muddy with other industrial disputes arising. The public are realizing unscrupulous employers are on the attack, and they too could become victims sooner if not later. Backing this theory up is the usual anti union rhetoric is not as prevalent out in the public domain. Showtime will be when National move for employment laws changes later in the year. 

  7. Dave says:

    @Aliens – gee hit a nerve did we? “Scum”? What a shabby and low class thing to say. I stand by my statement. Check back with me when all those Port Workers are out of a job due to the obfuscation, lies and intransigence of their Union. I’m sure they will thank them for their efforts in losing them their jobs. The Port has offered guaranteed hours and a pay rise, yet they still strike over ideology. Whats the next thing they want – compulsory Unionism? Pathetic.

  8. Augustine says:

    @RegistryAdmin – The port company is responsible for hiring and firing staff, so if you feel their policy is sexist you should address the issue with management. I assume you are similarly upset about the fact there are very few women working in forestry gangs, there were none working down the mine at Pike River, there are not as many women working on fishing vessels, do you call the workers in these industries sexist because there are not many women working alongside them?

    One worker out of 330 says there is racism so it must be fact? Or maybe he has some kind of personal agenda.

    In 10 years of working at the port those independently verified figures have never been our ‘fact’, not even close. But hey, obviously people who have probably never even set foot on the wharf know better about our earnings. And Im still wondering why people critical of how much the wharfies earn, happily accept the earnings of the CEO and the board, without even knowing how many hours they work for their salaries, or whether they are worth such sums of money.

    @ Tracey. If that happened it would be great, the sooner the dispute is resolved the better, for everyone involved.

  9. Tracey says:

    RegistryAdmin – interestingly the management have never cited their desire to eradicate racism or sexism from the culture as a reason for their opposition to this workforce’s action.

    Augustine, I’ve always thought the measur eof leadership is how it performs in adversity. Mr Joyce and his leader have been strangely absent fromt his dispute which is detrimental to Auckland (at least).

    I was pleased to see video of Maesrk containers at Auckland’s port over the weekend to finally put paid to the misleading stance taken by media and others that Maesrk moved to Tauranga (implying lock stock and barrel).

  10. al1ens says:

    “@Aliens – gee hit a nerve did we? “Scum”? What a shabby and low class thing to say.”

    Lol 😆

  11. al1ens says:

    “the left are obsessed with the ‘class’ of someone”