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Union could have settled Ports dispute earlier - Len Brown

Published: 6:40AM Sunday March 11, 2012 Source: ONE News

Auckland Mayor Len Brown believes the Maritime Union could have settled the Ports of Auckland dispute a lot earlier.

Brown's comments follow a decision from the Ports of Auckland to make nearly 300 Maritime Union members redundant, and replace them with contractors, after months of strike action.

"For the last eight months I have been giving direction, giving my view in terms of where they [union] should be, and I wanted to see the resolution out of a collective. They [union] have not got there. I'm not happy with that outcome," Brown told TVNZ's Q+A host Paul Holmes this morning."

"They could've settled on the first offer."

Brown has been widely criticised for not acting to end the dispute between the council-owned port and the union.

The unions have said they will meet any time if there is a decent offer, but Ports of Auckland chairman Richard Pearson said the appointment of contractors is final and the decision will not be reversed.

Maritime Union president Garry Parsloe said the port's full page ads in the paper is a sign they are panicking about losing the public's support.

The mayor continued to offer to find a solution, which the union has welcomed.

"There are some things that I can do and I will not run the port out of my office," Brown said this morning.

"My offer today is that I'm happy to sit with both parties in agreement in a mediator process if they are prepared to continue to meet."

Brown was also put in the hot spot over the five year growth target set for the Ports.

The port, which currently has a return of 6%, was given the target of a 12% return within five years.

A leaked document released in January by the Maritime Union suggested Ports of Auckland were looking to make workers redundant in order to generate the returns required by the port's owner, which was denied at the time.

On Q+A this morning, Holmes questioned Brown about where the figure of 12% return came from.  

Brown denied the figure was a "guess", saying it was instead a consequence of the assessments that were done within the council.

""The 12% was an estimate, a view that certainly I had been working on for right through the last 18 months - two years. It was discussed around the table with our officers - in council."

The desired return was presented to the port in their statement of commercial intent.

"The port's advice was that, 'give us five years and we can manage that'," Brown said.

But Holmes challenged the figure, saying it did not compare with other ports in Oceania, with Tauranga having returns of 6.8%, Lyttelton 8.6% Sydney 6.7%, Melbourne 3.1%

Brown denied the target was purely about profit.

"[It's] not just about return, we are losing share to Tauranga, we are competing flat-out against Brisbane and Sydney. It was our desire that we wanted the port to be much stronger in terms of its competitiveness."

Leaked document

In January the Maritime Union released a document leaked to it, which the union said demonstrated intentions to make union members redundant.

According to the undated Ports of Auckland document titled Labour Strategy, productivity and labour flexibility were insufficient to generate returns required by the port's owner, while Auckland Council and company executives doubted their ability to reach accord with the union over plans to outsource labour to stevedore contractors.

The port deemed the changes "too great" for the union to accept and estimated redundancy costs of $5 million during the shift to stevedoring contractors.

A port spokesperson at the time said the document "does not represent company policy and never did".

The company had been committed to renewing a collective contract, though when talks stalled and industrial action took over, it had dusted off plans to contract out the work, said the spokesperson.

Ports of Auckland is owned by Auckland Council Investments Ltd, a council-controlled investment company.