Ports of Auckland investigating automation

A lack of room and inability to expand outward pushes Auckland Council-owned company to look up.

This afternoon Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson announced the company is beginning a consultation process with staff over a proposal to automate part of its container terminal.

According to Mr Gibson, the proposal is being investigated due to “relentless” freight growth.

“We’re reaching the limit of what we can do with our current technology,” he says. “We need more room. We can’t go out so we need to go up and for that automation looks the best bet.”

The proposal involves using new 15m high automated straddle carriers – 3m higher than PoA’s existing machines – to carry out the less complex tasks in the container yard. More complex operations would continue to be performed by manual straddles.

Although automation “has the potential to deliver capacity, cost and environmental benefits,” Mr Gibson acknowledges that up to 50 jobs may be lost as a result.

He says, however, that the company will “work hard to reduce this number” and believes a combination of staff turnover, business growth and some changes in port work processes will help mitigate the resulting redundancies.

Unions have previously been advised the company is investigating automation and staff are now being consulted.

The results of that consultation, along with a scoping study expected to take three months, will inform the decision in early 2016 on whether to proceed with the automation proposal.

It appears that the Maritime Union, which had been locked in a bitter 41-month dispute with Ports of Auckland until February this year, is approaching the proposal with a pragmatic attitude.

Carl Findlay, who took over as the union’s national president after Garry Parsloe recently retired from the role, has noted that “whether we like it or not, automation in some way, shape or form is around the corner for us.”

The union’s approach to addressing the issue is encapsulated by the phrase “automation with negotiation,” he says.

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