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Q+A Transcript: Gary Parsloe and Richard Pearson

Published: 4:10PM Sunday March 11, 2012 Source: Q+A

Paul Holmes interviews Gary Parsloe and Richard Pearson

PAUL This week the long-running labour dispute on the Auckland wharves came to a head with the Ports of Auckland making almost 300 workers, mostly stevedores, redundant. The Ports of Auckland claims it has to increase productivity to be competitive and deliver the required returns; only contractors can help them do that and provide exporters and importers with reliable service in an increasingly difficult world. The workers say Auckland's already a profitable port, for heaven's sake, and the contract on offer would have meant no guaranteed work each week and no ability to plan family time. And they even made an ad featuring workers' families to ram the message home. So with me in the studio this morning are the Maritime Union head Gary Parsloe and the Ports of Auckland chairman, Richard Pearson. Now, both men will speak separately. So to you first, Mr Parsloe, what is this- at fundamental bottom, what is this dispute about?

GARY PARSLOE - Maritime Union

The dispute is about we just want a collective employment agreement that covers our members, one with some form of security so that people know when they go to work, when they don't go to work, know what family time they've got.

PAUL Or is it about the amount of wages paid for downtime that the Ports of Auckland are worried about? They say it's unsustainable; they don't want to pay people when they're not working.

GARY Well, they offered us 10% wages, and we declined it for 2.5%, and I don't think it's about money. We've never claimed money.

PAUL No, but, you see, they say there's too much downtime and you're still being paid. They want to pay you for when you work. What is wrong with that, Garry?

GARY Well, we're quite willing to go through those things. In the mediation, we addressed those things. We gave up 18 points at the last mediation, that were going to address the flexibility, the downtime, we would continue. 18 points were put at the mediation, that's right.

PAUL Look, I know, I mean, I was studying what the Ports of Auckland have come at you with over the last six months. They do not seem to have been madly ungenerous. I wonder if the strikes were an intelligent strategy. Even Mike Lee says going on strike was a grave error; that the Ports would turn on you, which is what they've done, of course.

GARY Well, of course, workers don't have a lot of things in their power. The only time we can take strike action is in pursuit of a collective, and we waited to do that because we want a collective that covers our members. It gives them some form of job security.

PAUL But you were going to get a collective.

GARY Oh, I don't know about that.

PAUL Come on, September 7 and 6 last year they came to you. The very first offer they were going to roll over the collective agreement was the 2.5% pay increase every year for three years. Now, why did you reject that?

GARY Because there was the fish hooks in the collective they wanted us to sign - the new one they gave us that took away all of our conditions, our security and was all the flexible hours-

PAUL Took away you having the right to roster, is that right?

GARY No, they took away a lot of things. Took away many many things. And, I mean, at that time you want to talk that they wanted a collective, well, I don't believe they ever did. We got their strategy paper-

PAUL Why would they offer you a collective if they didn't want a collective?

GARY We got a strategy paper last August, and in that strategy paper, they had $9 million of people's money of Auckland. It's on our website to get rid of the unions and get rid of them.

PAUL So go back to that September 6 and 7 offer - that they were going to roll over the collective agreement, 2.5% increase for three years every year. What were you going to lose exactly?

GARY Would have lost- There was nothing in there that defined times when people would go to work and not go to work and you couldn't take the kid to the beach, couldn't take your wife shopping, you had to sit by the phone all day wondering when you were next going to go to work.

PAUL Meaning they were going to do the roster, not the union?

GARY They were going to do the roster. They still do the rostering today. For goodness sake, they ring us up when to come to work.

PAUL Then you've been offered 10% wage- Then they came at you with a 10% wage offer, 20% productivity bonus offer, guaranteed 160 hours a month with the rosters sent out two months ahead. What in God's name is wrong with that?

GARY Well, we tried to get some definitive about the rosters. We said, 'What would they be? Would you do 160 in one week and get nothing for the next week, next week and next week?' We wanted some form across the board where people knew what they were doing.

PAUL 160 hours a month. They're not going to get you to do 160 in a week.

GARY Of course, but they're packed up into whatever at one time.

PAUL But fours into 160 goes 40.

GARY Yeah, but you don't get 40. Other ports work like that. You don't get 40. They work you when they want you, and they leave you want they don't want you.

PAUL In the end, also the union objects to the company contracting out. This has been a big sore point for the union, right?

GARY Yes.

PAUL I don't understand this, because in the collective agreement you've had for the past few years, the Ports of Auckland can contract out, and they do so. Why are you so adamant they should be denied that?

GARY They can contract out, but the clause in the document doesn't say they can contract out. The clause in the document talks about what happens when they contract out. It's all about contingent liability, how they pay out people their redundancy payments and their payments. It's formula for how it happens if it happens.

PAUL Do you believe this whole thing is about trying to reduce the amount of wages paid to the workers on the Ports of Auckland?

GARY Maybe, maybe not. I'm not sure what they're after. It's very hard to know what they're after.

PAUL Well, for six months you might have found out, mightn't you?

GARY Well, we've been in mediation for all that time trying to find out. And while we've been in mediation, they've been advertising our jobs in Australia. While we've been in mediation, they're now making our people redundant-

PAUL You've been on 12 strikes.

GARY I wouldn't call that good-faith bargaining.

PAUL Well, Gary, nor perhaps would people call 12 strikes good-faith bargaining either.

GARY The 12 strikes were because we've got to protect our members, and that's what we're trying to do.

PAUL Okay, but they weren't going to lay anyone off; they're just changing the conditions, weren't they?

GARY Yes, they were changing the conditions for employment.

PAUL You want the mayor- I think you said yesterday you want the mayor of Auckland to get off his jacksie and do a bit more.

GARY Yeah, I would like that.

PAUL Do you think he's being remiss?

GARY I think, well, the people of Auckland own the port, and the mayor is the mayor looking after the interests of the people of Auckland, and we believe he should do a little bit more than he's doing. We believe there's still a deal there, and maybe if people step and be a bit more helpful, there is a deal.

PAUL Thank you, Mr Parsloe. Now, I shall put that to the mayor when he comes along. Now, very quickly, are you expecting is this the- is this all over?

GARY No, this is only the start of it. We had- you said 3000, but there's about 5000 of the community marching down Queen Street.

PAUL Do you expect international action, international support?

GARY The international have this under the microscope. They most certainly have. And those 5000 people don't like the way that the people, that the workers of Auckland are being bashed around, and there's a message in that. Because there's only 300 of us, and yet 5000 people took to the streets yesterday.

PAUL Mm. Gary Parsloe, president of the Maritime Union of New Zealand, thank you very much for your time. Richard Pearson, you are the chairman of Ports of Auckland. Have you been bashing up the workers?

RICHARD PEARSON - Ports of Auckland Ltd

Absolutely not, Paul.

PAUL Why have you failed to reach an agreement after six months of this?

RICHARD Paul, it's longer than six months. We started this process at the beginning of last year - all the consultation, all the negotiations that were going on. The collective came to its end in September. We started negotiating the collective in August. We've been through a hundred hours plus of negotiation, mediation, and we've got absolutely nowhere. The problem is-

PAUL But isn't-?

RICHARD We just were not delivered the changes that we required, Paul.

PAUL Isn't it a truism, in a way, of industrial relations that if you're nowhere in a negotiation after six months, it's a plague on both your houses?

RICHARD Well, from my perspective, Paul, I came into this situation, and I've been 37 years in the container port business and ports all around the world. I have never seen such a waste of resource going on here. I have never seen a situation where you pay someone for 43 hours and they work 26. I've never seen a situation where ships wait to come in to start waiting for the start of a shift. You know, that's like aeroplanes flying around waiting for-

PAUL That average-26-hours business - have you had that audited?

RICHARD Absolutely.

PAUL By who?

RICHARD Ernest & Young.

PAUL Right, Ernst & Young. Do you want that union off the port? Was that the game all along?

RICHARD Not at all. We like unions. We've got unions already working on the port. In the outsourced model that we have with the stevedore contractors, they will have unions working for them.

PAUL So can you sit here this morning and say to us that you've negotiated in good faith?

RICHARD Absolutely, and I'll give you good evidence of that-

PAUL Well, Mr Parsloe said you had fish hooks everywhere.

RICHARD No, if we had- if we were not negotiating in good faith, Paul, we would've actually introduced the whole outsourcing stevedoring subcontracting model before the end of the collective. During that time, the union would not have been able to strike. In good faith, we waited until the end of the discussions to give them a good chance to, and unfortunately it went over the time of the expiry of the collective. That gave them the right to strike, so I stand absolutely firm when I say to you we have abided by all rules, regulations and fairness.

PAUL Mr Pearson, how do you know that if you contract your stevedoring that's going to improve productivity? You see, Auckland does no worse than any of the other ports in Australasia. Nowhere is madly more productive than Auckland.

RICHARD Pau l-

PAUL The Australian ports are all contracted out.

RICHARDPaul -

PAUL Melbourne does 3.1% return on equity.

RICHARD Paul, Australasia's not the benchmark for good container-port operations around the world, with all due respect, okay? As I've said to you, I have never seen such a potential asset like we've got at Auckland that could actually run better. You know, today we're running- Now, that port, without the MUNZ union, we're were the IEAs, which unfortunately people are calling scabs, which I find derogatory - that port is now running at 25% faster than it was before. We have made no other change other than having people that come to work who want to work with the right attitude. That's what I think people in Auckland want to see.

PAUL And the perception of people in Auckland might be that contracted-out stevedoring could mean worse pay and conditions for the wharfies.

RICHARD Again-

PAUL Otherwise, why would you do it, Mr Pearson?

RICHARD Paul, we've got them going. They're working. 25 years Tauranga's been working on this model, and it's been working well. And during that time, we've lost 12% of our market to Tauranga. We can't wait. We have to make this change now, and we have to make it quickly.

PAUL Now, the council wants that 12% return off the ports in five years, yes?

RICHARD That's correct.

PAUL Is that what's driving this?

RICHARD Not at all. That is an aspirational target, and you've mentioned the fact that it will be over 12 years, and it will be-

PAUL No, five years.

RICHARD Five, yes, correct, and it will be. It's not a dividend return; it's an equity return.

PAUL That's right. Can you do it? Can you do 12%?

RICHARD Yes, we can.

PAUL Right. The unions call you anti-family. Have you had second thoughts about this?

RICHARD Paul, that is absolute nonsense. People talk about waiting by the phone, etc. Ships are on schedules. 90% of all the ships that come into the port are on their schedule, on their slot, within one hour of ETA. We know months ahead. We can actually plan shifts weeks and weeks ahead. It is absolute nonsense to say that, and all I could also say is talk to the people at Tauranga. They're quite happy. Everything works well.

PAUL Right, a couple of quickies. Is it all over bar the shouting?

RICHARD It is all over. We've made the decision. We're now into implementation. We've appointed the contractor, and my wish would be this: get our workers, please, workers that are on strike, come and apply for job. Don't wait. Don't let the people that are stopping you, and there's a sinister little group of people down there - that's a subject for another Q A at another time - that have been stopping these people applying for jobs. I think it's wrong, and I think it's unfair.

PAUL All right, just very quickly - are you worried about the ship in Sydney that the wharfies over there aren't handling?

RICHARD No, that'll all be covered by law.

PAUL Mr Richard Pearson, chairman of Ports of Auckland, I thank you. Gary Parsloe, I thank you again.

RICHARD Thank you very much.

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