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Union 'happy' redundancy process halted

Published: 6:08AM Tuesday March 27, 2012 Source: ONE News

The battle between wharfies and the Ports of Auckland has reached a temporary truce, and the Council of Trade Unions says it has given union workers "reassurance".

An interim injunction reached in the Employment Court today halts the port's plans to make 292 employees redundant and contract out their jobs until May 16, when the court is expected to make a final decision

The port has also been stopped from trying to attract workers into taking voluntary redundancies until Friday, and cannot engage contracting companies to hire or recruit employees or advertise recruitment.

The ruling comes after the port last week agreed not to take any further action over redundancies or engage with contractors, but then locked out workers when they returned to the port the next day on safety grounds.

The port has agreed to back-pay wharfies for the period from March 21, when the Maritime Union lifted strike action, to March 30. The port says the offer does not apply to casual employees.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly told ONE News it was a significant agreement.

"The court has acknowledged that there is an arguable case that all the port has done in relation to the collective bargaining is not lawful and therefore granted an injunction to stop them with the contracting out," she said.

She said the workers have been dismayed by the port's behaviour.

"Today you know they've got some reassurance that they're on the right side of the law. They know the port now is going to have to rethink its strategy and they'll be pleased they're getting paid obviously."

A port worker said the back pay "will be a great help".

"It's good to know that we're finally getting somewhere and these guys are fronting up you know and we deserve that."

But another port work said the back-pay is secondary to their cause.

"The most important part about what's just happened in the courts this morning is the fact there is that we appeared to have been back online now to go back inside the place and do the jobs that we're employed to do and that's vitally important."

Workers will meet with port management on Thursday to determine who is eligible for back pay.

'Ill-advised letter'

The union claims the port has not followed the correct process when deciding to make workers redundant.

Colin Carruthers, QC for the Maritime Union, told the court today that the port sent a letter to workers following the agreement not to proceed with redundancies which said if union workers were interested in voluntary redundancies then the port would send them information and take them through the process.

Carruthers said the letter, which was allegedly sent on Friday, is completely against the legal agreement the port made with the union.

Kelly said the port's lawyer said "it was perhaps ill advised" and they will be seeking to again include a injunction stopping them from doing that.

He said he also has evidence that contracting companies, including the Allied Workforce Group and Drake, are still sending out information on contractors jobs to those who enquire.

He said the union has been privy to letters and documents which plainly show redundancies are still at the front of the port's mind.

The port argued it needs time to consider the evidence in the form of the voluntary redundancy letter and the documents which allegedly show redundancies were always the plan as it was only filed at 5pm last night.

In a statement today the company said it has issued an indefinite lockout notice to all union members covered by the collective bargaining over health and safety concerns, which were not specified.

The Employment Court will decide whether to issue an injunction on the lockouts on Friday.

But Carruthers told the court that while the port says the lockout is a move to progress with collective bargaining, the evidence the union's legal team has shown "the dominant motive can't be to advance collective bargaining".