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Lyttelton Port carries baggage of militancy

By Chris Hutching

Friday 15th August 2003

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Lyttelton Port Co's annual result released this week reflects the $2.9 million payout to waterfront union workers to settle a longstanding dispute about flexible rosters on the container wharf.

The industrial agreement was signed in May but covers only a 12-month period and the company will face a new round of negotiations over conditions and pay early in the New Year.

The latest profit result is the first one under new chairman Barney Sundstrum who was appointed after 67% shareholder Christchurch City Holdings replaced Brent Layton whose departure was soon followed by the chief executive, David Viles (who was replaced by Peter Davie).

While Mr Sundstrum emphasised the effect of the one-off $2.9 million payout to workers, the annual result reflects declining profitability in spite of higher turnover.

Regardless of the fall in profitability the dividend has been struck at the same level as in previous years and the total annual dividend will be 11c a share, most of it to be paid to cash-hungry Christchurch city, which will use the money to help offset rates rises.

"We are pleased with the progress at the terminal, and with the co-operation of the combined unions we are able to offer our customers a competitive and efficient 24-hour seven-day-a-week service. We have also provided flexible shift start times which are delivering time efficiencies for our customers," Mr Sundstrum said.

But management has its work cut out to improve performance because turnover was down from $61.9 million last year to $60.8 million despite of record coal tonnages and increased container terminal traffic.

Total costs were $5.2 million including asset writedowns and maintenance costs, which conspired to reduce the overall after tax result to $11.6 million ­ a dramatic drop from the $16.3 million reported last year.

Chief executive Mr Davie described the situation as being at "base camp" and said he realised the company would need to pull its socks up.

He said the year had been challenging. On a brighter note he said volumes through the container terminal should remain stable over the next 12 months and he expected growth in the coal trade following the long-term contract signed with Solid Energy in September 2002 and the subsequent facility development at the port.

"As a result, the 2003/04 projections for NPAT (profit after tax) inclusive of additional depreciation and interest charges associated with the coal development are around those reported this year," he said.

"The board and management are working on a new strategic direction that has a priority on servicing the customer and creating wealth for shareholders."

Further details on this direction will be provided at the company's annual meeting on Friday, October 17 in Christchurch.

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