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Auckland Bishops offer to step in to ports dispute

Published: 5:51AM Friday March 09, 2012 Source: ONE News

Church leaders are offering to step in and help the two warring parties in the Ports of Auckland dispute find a resolution.

The Anglican and Catholic bishops of Auckland are offering to sit down with port management and the Maritime Union, as they say there seems to be no middle ground left in the dispute

"We are indicating to both parties that if we can help in any way we are offering to sit down with the Maritime Union and the Port company,"  Anglican Bishop Ross Bay said.

"We cannot promise anything but offer our leadership in a spirit of reconciliation, as the escalation of this dispute threatens the well-being of families and our city."

The Bishops say they are concerned equally for the welfare of workers and their families and for the future of the docks.

The port announced yesterday it was making almost 300 staff redundant and would be contracting out their jobs after failing to reach a settlement after several months of negotiations.

The union and the port started discussions on a new employment agreement last August. Since then there have been several weeks of strikes as the two parties struggle to find a compromise.

The port was offering a pay rise and other incentives to workers if they agreed to a casualisation of the roster system, but dock staff wanted more certainty about when they would be working and were willing to take a smaller pay rise.

Job uncertainty

One of the labour firms tasked with filling almost 300 jobs at the Ports of Auckland says it doesn't yet know where the staff will come from.

Ports of Auckland has started the process of making its unionised workers redundant and announced today that labour firms Drake and AWF Group (formerly Allied Work Force) have won the contracts for the stevedoring jobs.

AWF CEO Mike Huddleston told ONE News the former staff are welcome to apply for the new positions.

"At this point in time we don't know where these staff will come from obviously," he said. "We're hopeful that some of the existing workers will join in the new businesses."

But there is concern the new contractors will not be able to match the experience of the staff they are replacing.

It takes four weeks to train as a straddle driver and six weeks to learn to drive a crane. But members of the Maritime Union say it takes up to two years "in the seat" to become fully safe and productive.

"Over a period of two months we expect to train people to be capable of using the equipment," Huddleston said.

"That doesn't mean they'll be capable of reaching the targets that we expect to reach over a 12 month period."

He said while the proposed efficiencies may not be achieved straightaway, the port is planning for the future.

The new contracting companies have until April 18 to fill the 292 positions at the port.

Meanwhile, the union is relying on the Employment Court to stave off redundancy and get back to negotiations.

"There is horrendous pressure on those workers and we want it to be heard urgently," said Garry Parsloe, Maritime Union President.

The union is planning a public rally tomorrow to galvanise support for the workers. Firefighters have said they will join in the march.

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