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Lock-out notice ends brief peace at Ports of Auckland

Thursday 22nd March 2012 1 Comment

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Ports of Auckland has issued a lock-out notice to its striking workforce, just hours ahead of a vote by union members that would see them return to work, having won a vital legal victory this week.

Port workers immediately took to Auckland streets, amid claims by close observers that the port company’s chairman, Richard Pearson, is running the port’s strategy and is “out of control”.

The lock-out notice was issued a day after the company announced it would stop plans to make all striking workers redundant and to contract out stevedoring jobs and would resume mediation on a collective contract at the port.

As Employment Court hearings on the dispute progressed, it appears PoAL realised its legal position was not “bullet-proof” as claimed, but in danger of collapsing. The decision to return to the bargaining table came after an informal judicial settlement conference held late yesterday with Employment Court judge Barrie Travis.

Pearson said on radio this morning the decision to return to mediation was not a U-turn, but a “route deviation”. Within hours, the port advised it was issuing a lockout notice, stating the “existing right to contract workers must remain” and was “fundamental to the upcoming mediation.”

MUNZ members had been scheduled to vote to return to work this afternoon.

While a lockout notice does not constitute an act of “bad faith” in employment law terms, the port’s action demonstrates that yesterday’s apparent progress on the protracted dispute at the port serving the country’s largest city was an illusion.  MUNZ president Gary Parsloe said the lockout was “unlawful”.

The lockout notice is scheduled to occur within two weeks, half way through the one month pause period agreed for mediation yesterday.

“Governance at the Ports of Auckland is out of control,” said Parsloe. “It’s time for the mayor and councils to step and sack this board, and replace them with a group who are willing to run this important asset property for the benefit of Auckland.”

The port undertook not to continue advertising for contract staff during the one month mediation period, but radio advertising for stevedoring positions was continuing to air this morning.

A port spokeswoman expressed surprise at this, saying she “thought all ads had been pulled”, and that Drake and AWF – the two labour-sourcing firms being used to hire contract stevedores – had also been advised to put their activity on hold.

Meanwhile, Auckland Chamber of Commerce head Michael Barnett said that whatever happened now, the future of the Auckland port lay with competitive stevedoring.

“A work environment in which a union can hold New Zealand to ransom no longer has any place,” he said in a statement. “The port company has learned that it needs to lift its game to world champion levels. The Maritime Union and its members need to understand that they must too.”

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Comments from our readers

On 23 March 2012 at 4:08 pm John Sullivan said:
By now it patently obvious to most that the port authority and in particular the ex Maersk executive, now port chairman have deliberately sought to undermine the bargaining process all along in order to precipitate a 'crisis' in the mind of the general public, as a cynical strategy to effect the de-unionisation of the port. All the headline seeking claims of being held hostage and intimidation are laid bare for what they are by the court process, an attempt to intensify the political climate to offset the weak legal case and distract from the malice of the POA toward its unionised employees, founded in economic ideology and sustained by egotistic vanity rather than being born of any economic imperative. Hence the loud bluster about "Bullet Proof case" turning into petulant bad faith observance to court arbitrated undertakings. It’s time for the super ego's to depart.
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