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Ports of Auckland wharfie dispute hasn't gone away

While wharfies returned to work at the Ports of Auckland (PoAL) in early April after several months of strikes, the Maritime Union has gone on the charm offensive, reminding people the dispute is far from over.

In 'The Wharfies Story' - a glossy account from the workers' perspective - the union urges public support, while accusing the port company of being unwavering in its tactics, and compromising the livelihoods of the men who work the docks.

The most recent development in the year-long dispute saw the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) this week reject the union's bid to take its dispute to the Employment Court.

Since the lockout ended, however, reports about the dispute and whether it is any closer to settlement, have been far and few between.

This is seemingly because the port company wants to keep the status quo for now; the last thing it wants is another strike at Christmas.

But it may try its bid for contracting out jobs again next year.

For the public, however, it looks like the dispute has been settled, according to the wharfies story, which the union is distributing to local government officials, politicians and community groups.

But the dispute remains unresolved a year after bargaining started on a new collective agreement.

Despite the port being a council-owned and controlled organisation, "there is a real sense that the process and decision making around this dispute has not been open," the union says.

"There has been significant inconvenience and cost to customers.

"There has also been significant costs and inconvenience to employees of the port and their families - loss of wages and stress caused by a difficult working environment."

According to the union, wharfies are maintaining professionalism, despite losing many skilled workers due to the unfavourable working conditions.

It accuses PoAL of being unwavering in its 'take it or leave it' position to contract out jobs, and if the current course continues, both sides will lose.

"If we win, then the chances for a cooperative model of change will be hugely reduced, the workforce is likely to be spit because of the disruption 'winning' will cause, and workers are likely to have lost income and work opportunities," the union says.

"If the port win this dispute, then it is likely to end up with an inexperienced and unhappy workforce, little co-operation, poor quality jobs, a reputation amongst international union members as a bad employer and no guarantee of any productivity improvements or industrial peace."

The Maritime Union credits fellow unionists Simon Oosternman of the NDU, and Malcolm McNeill, Georgina McLeod and Bill Rosenberg of the CTU in helping product the booklet. 

Labour List MP Carol Beaumont is also credited, along with FIRST Union's Sam Huggard, Rebecca Matthews and Bill Bradford. 

By publishing a booklet explaining its side of the story, the Maritime Union hopes it will win over the public.

The union says it is "determined that the full story of this dispute is told and in particular that there is greater accountability and transparency."

Whether it achieves that is another matter, but it's a worthy tactic from a group apparently desperate to ensure it's message is heard.

More by Caleb Allison

Comments and questions
5

Rodney Hide's article today clearly illustrates the overarching problem in this area.
We wait for some political backbone to appear.
liberte

Our govt needs to step up to the plate, but will they?
WG

Where is our Government?
Surely it's time they took action?
Otherwise all their talk about improving the economy is empty.

Yes we are deperate to get our point of view across, That's because people like you are too keen to present the right wing view of situations like this. have seen the press releases that our Union sends out that get no airing in the press,at all, certainly in Auckland.
You call yourself a journalist, well how about really reading this, and then analyse the graphs and you will see our figures stand up. Try reporting the ACIL meeting on Thurs and then read the email it's leader Gary Swift sent to the POAL discussing ways to present the events so they support what he and port company want. This from a guy who is supposed to be impartial.
Try doing some real journalism and stop doing your bosses bidding.

Coming from a family of dock workers, I've seen the devastating affect that untramelled union activity can have. Its good that POAL have kept their heads down and their back straight and proceeded to "time out" the contracts so they can end up with a port that doesn't have lazy thugs on its workforce,