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Lyttleton Port and unions in talks to avoid strike tomorrow

Wednesday 7th March 2018

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Mediation talks between Lyttleton Port Co and the Rail and Maritime Transport Union broke for lunch without any deal being done - and with a new complication in the mix.

The talks, which stem from a dispute over the introduction of more flexible overnight rosters, are aimed at averting a strike by RMTU staff.

Without agreement, the RMTU workers, about a third of the total at the port, are expected to walk out on Friday and could strike for up to two weeks.

Union organiser John Kerr said the discussion over the main issues had progressed this morning, but workers were angry that the port wouldn’t pay them if they went back to work tomorrow.

As a “gesture of goodwill” before talks started this morning, the RMTU called off strike action for tomorrow (Thursday), Kerr said. But the company argued that without seven days notice of calling off the strike, ships will have been diverted to other ports, and there won’t be work for all the RMTU members - who therefore won’t get paid.

“This stance has aggravated the situation,” Kerr said.

Kerr said one positive from discussions this morning was the company “had signalled a willingness to change its bargaining position if we agree to three-year term” - something the union would consider.

“It’s a glimmer of hope.”

He said although talks were scheduled to finish at 4.30pm today, the union was prepared to continue through the night, or into tomorrow if there was a chance to get a resolution.

Lyttleton Port spokesman Paul Monk wasn’t willing to comment on progress before the end of the day’s mediation, nor did he say whether the port’s negotiating team - led by consulting employer advocate Paul Weaver, rather than chief executive Peter Davie, who is overseas - would be available tomorrow.

Gary Horan, secretary of the Maritime Union of New Zealand, the other main union at Lyttleton Port, said his members had agreed a deal with the company in 2017 over the graveyard shift rosters, and would be at work tomorrow. The MUNZ deal followed industrial action last year.

Port company operations will be down from three shifts to a single shift throughout any strike, and Horan said it wasn’t clear how much cargo handling work his members would be able to do, without backup from the RMTU staff.

He said if there was a strike, his members would continue to work, though they would have to make a decision at a later stage whether they would cross an RMTU picket line.

Lyttleton Port is the third-largest container port in the country, and the largest in the South Island. It handles almost $5 billion of exports a year.

Two workers have died at the port over the last 10 years.

(BusinessDesk)

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