Ports of Auckland fined $40,000 over union dispute

Ports of Auckland has been fined $40,000 by the Employment Relations Authority for illegally employing contractors while other workers were on strike.

The Auckland council-controlled organisation has been in a long-running dispute with the Maritime Union (MUNZ) over its aim to employ more contractors in the name of efficiency.

For a month in February and March this year, MUNZ members were on strike for a new collective agreement.

MUNZ says during this time, work to repair straddle carriers  – machines used to unload cargo and move containers – which is normally done by union workers, was outsourced to contractors.

A union member on the picket line had taken a photo of two men repairing straddles.

One was an apprentice employed by PoAL, and the other was Andre Labus, an employee of an external contractor, Noell.

PoAL's engineering manager Michael Osborne told the ERA Mr Labus had been brought in before the strike to do "hands-on" training at the port, but because most workers were on strike, the only other person available was an apprentice.

He argued the apprentice was gaining experience and training while undertaking the straddle repair work.

ERA member Anna Fitzgibbon rejected this explanation, saying: "There was a strike and employees to be trained were going to be on strike.

"Why bring Mr Labus to New Zealand at a cost of more than $10,000 a week in such circumstances?

"It is my view that Mr Osborne's decision to retain Mr Labus 'for training' was to enable essential work at the port to continue during the course of the strike."

Ms Fitzgibbon says Mr Osborne knew he could not legally employ someone else to do the repair work because of the strike, but took the risk anyway.

After learning a MUNZ member had taken a photo of Mr Labus and the apprentice undertaking the repair work, PoAL tried to hide the activity.

"Containers were stacked around the perimeter fence and the engineering workshop which obscured the vision of MUNZ employees on the picket line," the ERA's decision says.

Ms Fitzgibbon says PoAL's insistence that the work was "training" is not correct.

She says PoAL was aware it could not employ contractors to undertake the straddle repair work, "but in order to keep the port operating during the strike, made calculated decisions to breach the provision".

PoAL was ordered to pay a total of $40,000 – with $30,000 to go to the Crown and $10,000 to the Maritime Union. 

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