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Ports 'on brink' of 'port of convenience' declaration

Published: 9:01AM Friday January 20, 2012 Source: ONE News

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) has left a meeting in London warning that Ports of Auckland is "on the brink".

Earlier today, the warring Maritime Union and Ports (POAL) met as concern over the bitter dispute grew internationally. Union officials were told details of the port's plans to restructure the workforce and say they are expecting redundancies.

The port and the union are embroiled in a bitter dispute over the port's move to contract out workers after negotiations over a new collective agreement failed. The bitter wrangling has now dragged into its fourth month.

The London meeting was attended by international dockers trade union representatives, where concern is growing over the worsening situation in Auckland.

ITF president and Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) general secretary Paddy Crumlin, and ITF general secretary David Cockroft warned that the Ports of Auckland is on the brink of being declared a "port of convenience".

'Grave situation'

The warning came after ITF's Cockroft and Crumlin sent a message to Ports of Auckland company chief executive Tony Gibson earlier today, saying they are aware of "the grave situation" and consider it "an outrageous attack on basic trade union rights".

"We understand that the whole workforce of 300 dockworkers have been threatened with the loss of their employment if they do not sign up to a standard agreements outside the national union agreement," they said.

"We are informed that POAL is now trying to remove the collective agreement with MUNZ (Maritime Union of New Zealand)."

Cockroft and Crumlin said if workers are forced to abandon their existing agreements, the ITF will declare the Ports of Auckland a 'port of convenience', which means it will receive special attention politically and industrially.

"(ITF) will request our affiliates around the world, particularly in the Dockers and Seafarers Sections, to take immediate lawful action," the duo said.

They urged the Ports to enter genuine dialogue to find a solution for all involved.

The ITF represents 690 unions in 155 countries. The dockers section represents over 400,000 members in more than 200 major ports around the world.

"Unhelpful"

Ports of Auckland responded to the letter by saying the ITF was making "entirely unwarranted and unhelpful" threats and the letter shows "it has little understanding of the current situation".

"The ITF's views regarding removal of the collective agreement are wrong," said a Ports of Auckland media release.

"We have made it very clear that we are continuing with collective bargaining whilst reviewing alternative labour models."

Ports says losing Fonterra and Maersk business has already put Auckland workers' jobs at risk and threats by the ITF will only impact negatively on their jobs.

"We suggest the ITF reverts to its affiliate unions in New Zealand to get the correct information."

Maritime Union of New Zealand has also come out and condemned the outsourcing move, saying the Port's decision brought into question its motives.

"We will not accept this attack on workers and their basic rights of employment through contracting out aimed at undermining job security," said Maritime Union National President Garry Parsloe in a statement this afternoon.

However, Parsloe adds that there was still a window for a negotiated solution, as nothing had been finalised.
"We think management need to change tack pretty quickly."

Earlier in the week the Maritime Union withdrew its 24 hour strike notice for January and Ports of Auckland agreed in turn to hold a stop work meeting.

The four hour meeting with the union has been scheduled for January 31.

The port will be fully operational during the meeting with non-union staff operating the port.

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