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New chief executive lined up for Lyttelton Port Co

By Chris Hutching

Friday 28th February 2003

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A new chief executive is poised to take over the helm at Lyttelton Port Co from acting chief executive Chris Connor as the company negotiates a conclusion to an industrial agreement with waterfront workers that requires a controversial $3 million provision in the company's balance sheet.

Rumours were rife on the wharf yesterday about the identity of the new chief executive chosen by the board of directors led by new chairman Barney Sundstrum.

He became chairman late last year after former chairman Brent Layton was pressured to leave by 65% shareholder Christchurch City Holdings, unhappy about an industrial deadlock. Former chief executive David Viles followed Mr Layton's departure.

A Stock Exchange announcement was pending at press time yesterday about the conclusion of the industrial negotiations and it was expected the announcement about the new CEO would immediately follow.

Meanwhile, an industrial officer with the Rail & Maritime Transport Union, Paul Corliss, said describing the $3 million provision for industrial settlement as a payoff or bribe was inappropriate.

"Elements of the settlement package include a 3% increase over the next 12 months and financial recognition of no wage increase for the past two-and-a-half years. If anything it is on the low side of other wage movements. The additional money not accounted for is simply potential liability for voluntary redundancies that may take place over the next six months," he said.

"I would have thought this was fairly standard practice and certainly miles away from some of the glorious packages being paid to exiting directors, CEOs and senior managers recently reported."

He rejected accusations that employees were "work shy," noting that in the past decade work throughput had increased more than 135% with a 65% reduction in staff. Mr Corliss said until recently Lyttelton was noted as the third-best container crane operation internationally.

A Lyttelton Port Company representative said $625,000 of the $2.9 million provision in the balance sheet was for legal and consulting costs and the balance of $2.3 million would be for the employment contract settlement plus any redundancies.

He also clarified that the Lyttelton Port Co interim dividend was equal to that for the same period last year at 3.75c a share (contrary to last week's report that it had halved) but said it was too early speculate on the second-half dividend (total dividends in recent years have been about 10-11c a share).

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