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.