It has been announced that the Ports of Auckland management have signed a collective agreement with the scab union PortPro that was established by 30 strikebreaking stevedores.
This is a setback for the Maritime Union, which has been trying to negotiate a new collective agreement since August of 2011. Even the National Business Review is questioning whether the move by the Port of Auckland is legal or not, as it is surely aimed at undermining MUNZ's position:
Bell Gully employment lawyer Liz Coats says the port's move could be seen as undermining the Maritime Union's bargaining position, which is illegal under the Employment Relations Act.
"If Maritime Union members decide they want to join PortPro, that undermines the leverage that the Maritime Union has in its collective bargaining because it doesn't have as much pressure on the port any more.
"The port is not going to be as desperate to accept whatever terms the Maritime Union is putting on the table because it's got a workforce that is not striking."
The scab contract is similar to one at the Port of Tauranga and will give the Port of Auckland ‘level footing’ to compete. In other words a casualised workforce with no guaranteed hours.
This is how it is described by a Ports of Auckland press release:
The flexible shift and roster system in the deal is similar to what has been in place successfully at Port of Tauranga for over 20 years. If we can get a deal like this across all the port we will be able to compete with Tauranga on level footing.
If the Port of Auckland succeed in defeating MUNZ, there is no doubt safety will be put at risk. At the Port of Tauranga, which is held up as a bastion of profitability and efficiency, there are multiple labour companies supplying workers on short notice. There have been three deaths in the past few years, while there have been no deaths at the Ports of Auckland, a MUNZ stronghold.
With workers are twice as likely to die on the job in NZ compared with Australia, it is clear a stronger union movement leads to fewer deaths on the job :
The number of people harmed at work each year in New Zealand would fill Eden Park four times, a national discussion paper to be released today will reveal.
It is roughly twice as dangerous to work in New Zealand as in Australia and almost four times as dangerous as working in Britain, and that is not counting people injured while driving in connection with work.
Not only will you earn on average 30% more in Australia but you are much less likely to die at work– this is what a stronger trade union movement means in real terms. We should take a lesson from Queensland construction workers who recently won a nine week long strike.
Needless Tragedies: Deaths at Port of Tauranga since December 2010
Walter Crosa 49 – father
15 Aug 2011
“It was believed Mr Crosa was working for a contractor at the port doing some roading works at the time of the accident. The Department of Labour is investigating and the matter has been referred to the coroner, he said. The Allied Workforce employee was working for another contracted company when the accident happened. It is the third fatality at the port within the past 15 months.”
Brian Shannon 61
“In June this year, two Bay companies were fined a total of $55,000 after a forklift ran over and killed stevedore Brian Kevin Shannon, 61, of Otumoetai at the port on June 2010. Mr. Shannon worked for Independent Stevedoring Limited (ISL) loading and unloading cargo from ships. ISL and on wharf logistics company C3 Limited, whose employee was driving the forklift, were both fined over the death after pleading guilty to charges in court.”
Chinese seaman 35 (not named)
December 17th 2010
“A 35year old Chinese seaman died after falling from the side of the logging ship Green Hope and into the water in Tauranga Harbour. Attempts to resuscitate him after he was pulled from the water by workmates were unsuccessful.”
There was also a death at the port in 2003.There have been no deaths at the Port of Auckland during this period.
[Source: MUNZ/CTU fact sheet]
Will MUNZ strike back?
MUNZ engaged in effective strike action at the end of last year and beginning of this year that brought the bosses back to the negotiating table. However they have also pursued a legal strategy that meant they called off action before signing a collective agreement. This now seems like a mistake. The courts did postpone redundancies but the management have hit back by harassing and humiliating union members on site with new security systems etc and the deal with the scab union is the next step to undermining MUNZ members.
While the strikes were on MUNZ in Auckland received solidarity from wharfies all over the world. Most significantly however were the actions taken by union wharfies in Wellington and Sydney ports who refused to unload ships that were loaded by scab labour at Auckland. A further reason why the workers movement should rely on its own power instead of the courts is that they forced MUNZ wharfies in Wellington to unload scab ships:
“Bosses at Wellington's Centreport applied for an injunction from the Court after a small number of staff on Friday and Saturday refused to work on a ship that had recently arrived from Auckland.”
As it stands at the moment MUNZ is continuing with court mediated bargaining and has organised a rally today in Tamaki Drive, Auckland, to build support for their cause. The MUNZ website explains that:
Mr Parsloe says MUNZ has worked very hard to settle an agreement that provides further flexibility to ensure the Port continues to be successful for the people of Auckland.
“We believe it is possible to do this and have a fair collective agreement that provides security for our members, unlike the Port of Tauranga that POAL continues to hold up as the model.”
However, as far as I can see, all out strike action or the threat of it can achieve a better deal for Aucklands union wharfies – not simple lobbying and relying on the courts. If MUNZ takes strike action socialists should strive for the maximum solidarity to help the wharfies sustain their action until a new contract is signed.
The Port management colluding with the scab union PortPro is a strategy to divide the workforce and introduce a Tauranga style contract, which will just lead to speed ups, less job security, and worst of all more injuries and deaths at the Port.
The MUNZ workers have the power to shut down the Ports of Auckland and if they use their power by taking all out strike action along with solidarity from other sites they could be able to force the Auckland City Council to sack the current anti-worker management team and get a good contract. A victory for MUNZ in which a contact with good terms and conditions are kept should not be passed on to the scab union.