Union stevedoring company runs aground

Pacifica Shipping, owned by the Rich Lister Skeggs family, is disputing the Maritime Union's claim about why its stevedoring company went under.

Auckland Stevedoring Company (Asco), jointly owned by the union and port services company C3, went into voluntary liquidation just days before Christmas, resulting in more than 25 staff – including about a dozen casual workers – being laid off.

Maritime Union national president Garry Parsloe says in today's print edition of the National Business Review the company was a victim of a Pacifica bungle.

He says Pacifica – Asco's only customer at the Onehunga port – let its Spirit of Resolution charter lapse, allowing a rival company to swoop in and take the charter over.

"We had no more work for our stevedoring company in Onehunga because nothing went in there."

However, Pacifica chief executive Steve Chapman says the charter was not renewed because it wanted a bigger capacity ship which, unfortunately, could not use Onehunga.

Asco's demise was a byproduct of Pacifica's desire to grow and "de-risk" the business, he says.

Other industry sources suggest it is bad management for a company to be reliant on a single customer calling at a small port.

The Maritime Union is locked in a bitter dispute with the Ports of Auckland, which wants to improve productivity and introduce more flexible working hours to more effectively compete with Port of Tauranga.

A government-appointed facilitator, Alastair Dumbleton, has issued recommendations in an attempt to break the deadlock, which the council-owned port company says it will accept.

The union, however, says the recommendations are a "useful basis" for further negotiations, even though the dispute has already dragged out for 18 months, including a series of strikes and lockouts.

Mr Dumbleton's recommendations are confidential but the union's reaction seems to suggest they favour the port company's argument. The reaction also speaks volumes about the union's willingness to compromise.

Elsewhere in today's National Business Review print edition, business editor Duncan Bridgeman details the curious and colourful case of a Texan named Vanessa Black White and a Singaporean dogsledder embroiled in a legal spat over a valuable Taranaki basin petroleum permit.

Also, concerns over the discovery of dicyandiamide residue in Fonterra's milk expose a potentially bigger problem for the country's farmers, which makes the balance between lofty production targets and environmental sustainability even harder.

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