Waterfront showdown - super mayor in super trouble

Brown: waffling amid the most confrontational industrial dispute of our times

The showdown between workers and bosses on the Auckland’s wharves has finally arrived. 

The sacking of all the wharfies ensures that this industrial dispute has just become the most confrontational of our times. 

There will now be all sorts of court action – by employers to prevent other workers supporting their Auckland colleagues with strike action, and by the Maritime Union to challenge the Ports of Auckland restructuring process – but the real action will be decided by raw industrial muscle. Which side has the most industrial strength?

Radio New Zealand reports that Auckland has been declared a ‘port of convenience’ which marks it for international unions as one of the worst ports in the world for industrial relations and employer behaviour – see: RNZ’s Industrial action spreading to another port. Time is money, as they say, and delays caused by support action at other ports will already be costing shipping companies caught up in the dispute – see: Mathew Dearnaley’s Ships caught in dispute depart with goods to keep to their schedules and Kurt Bayer’s Christchurch port workers to strike in solidarity
 
Time is running out for a negotiated settlement and the stakes really couldn’t be higher for the union, its members and the management of the Ports of Auckland. 
 
Politically, this will rapidly increase the pressure on Auckland Mayor Len Brown.
 
Seeing him standing on the sidelines and watching the Council-owned company lay into the union will infuriate the political networks that got him elected – listen, for example, the CTU’s Helen Kelly on RNZ this morning complaining that Brown has ‘had his time to get his shit together on this, and he’s let us down’. See also, TVNZ’s Len Brown accused of 'absolutely disgusting' attitude. On top of that there seems to be broader concern in Auckland about the management of the ports company, not just in terms of industrial relations, but also its expansion plans. 
 
If the dispute is ‘class war’, then some Auckland employers haven’t got the memo. Jenny Keown reports that a union and business coalition, including Mainfreight, Bell Gully, and Simpson Grierson is asking to meet with Brown and has drafted a charter for the ports that includes more progressive environmental and labour relations – see: Union, business groups meet over Auckland port.
 
John Minto looks at the broader trend of employer demands for greater flexibility and contracting out in Workers made to pay the price. Minto currently works for Unite union, which represents fast food and hospitality workers who have worked for many years under the conditions being proposed at the Ports of Auckland. He warns that ‘There is a lot at stake on the Auckland port. It's not just 300 permanent jobs because other employers are watching carefully to see if they can use the same approach to add more to their profits at the expense of workers’.
 
Government employees under pressure from austerity measures are also starting to get militant. One of the increasingly popular weapons in the public servant’s arsenal is the use of leaks, as evidenced in Matthew Backhouse’s article, Senior diplomat slams Mfat cuts in leaked cable. Public servants have taken to Twitter and there is talk of protest marches, social media activism, and creative street performances – see Andrea Vance’s must-read article, Public servants plan to bite back against cuts.
 
David Farrar does the Government’s work in replying to this, with his blog post, Will the Empire strike back. Farrar says that such austerity requirements are a simple fact that opponents cannot escape: ‘The deficit has been running at around $10b a year. That is several times larger than the cost of the entire civil service’. He effectively challenges Labour and any other opposition to come up with an alternative credible plan to deal with the growing deficit.
 
Chris Trotter answers that challenge – see his blog post, Intensifying The Vicious Circle. As well as putting forward some social democratic policy proposals for dealing with the economic downturn, Trotter warns against the Government’s fiscally austere response, suggesting it will make things much worse: ‘New Zealand is thus caught in a vicious circle, with falling revenues necessitating further cuts in spending, triggering more economic contraction, more unemployment, reduced consumer spending, lower profits and falling real wages. The Government’s tax-take will fall correspondingly, depressing its revenues still further’.
 
In a must-read opinion piece – Harder to smile in face of second term-itis - Vernon Small says there has been a clear mood shift against the Government since the election and the asset sales, ongoing leaks, deteriorating financial forecasts and cost cutting are challenging John Key now, let alone in a few weeks when rumoured radical state sector changes may be announced. Small makes what is likely to be a dreaded comparison with National in the early-1990s: ‘Watching the House yesterday was like a blast from the past, circa the Bolger-Shipley government; leaks from public servants, unpopular asset sales, economic woes, and tough cost cutting.’
 
There certainly seems to an almost daily release or leak about state sector cuts and restructuring – see: TVNZ’s All police jobs at threat in budget squeeze – association, John Hartevelt’s Defence bill about making cuts, says Goff and TV3’s MAF to be renamed Ministry for Primary Industries
 
Other interesting reads today include David Farrar’s Should List MPs be able to stand in by-elections?, Nicholas Jones’ John Key's teapot fetches $6000 and The Political Scientist’s What ground is ‘left’ when it comes to land, assets – and nationalism?. Finally the Herald acknowledges the death of Owen McShane in Respected planning consultant, adviser dies, and you can read McShane’s final column for the NBR: The economy is no greater than its parts
 
Bryce Edwards

Today’s content
 
All items are contained in the attached PDF. Below are the links to the items online.
 
Ports of Auckland dispute
Paul Harper, Hayden Donnell and APNZ: 'It ain't over', port union warns 
John Minto (Herald): Workers made to pay the price
Abby Gillies (Stuff): Ports of Auckland wharfies react
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): The Worm turns
 
Industrial disputes
William Mace (Stuff): Union to meet on Affco campaign
Mike Smith (Standard): Support for global union solidarity
 
Government austerity
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Will the Empire strike back
Chris Trotter (Bowalley Road): Intensifying The Vicious Circle
Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): National's Toolbox Is Empty
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): TVNZ7 programmes
 
Parliament
Jane Clifton (Stuff): David Shearer goes fishing
Nicholas Jones (Herald): John Key's teapot fetches $6000
 
Asset sales 
 
Law Commission media proposals
The Law Commission (Public Address): Censorship is not the only enemy of free speech
The Law Commission (Kiwiblog): What media standards should apply?  
Law Commission (Pundit): What do we mean by "news media"?
 
Other
Jessica Tasman-Jones (Stuff): Gift claims at Auckland Council
Fran O'Sullivan (Herald): Govt should seek judgment on farms
Martin Johnston (Herald): Bash victim faces ACC denial
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12 Comments & Questions

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Fascinating article, frightening in reality as it indicates little NZ is closer as a nation to Greece than Australia.
Len Brown is an incompetent for all the above and his blind lunge at rating us out of existence.

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Honestly, I don't know of anyone who doesn't think Len Brown has been anything other than a major disappointment.

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The government needs to carefully spend money to get us out of the recession. Spending cuts at the top level can only lead to cuts in spending by everyone else.

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Len is a disastor.
He just wants to increase spending on things rate payers don't want each year like free entrance to swimming pools.
H e is going to increase rates by 6% each year just because he can - that is the understood plan in the council and shows the lack of ability of him and his team. No other company could act with such poor commercial drivers.
Ridiculous bunch of monkeys.

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Enough is enough. The port is not a public service for Aucklanders, its a business. It must be allowed to run its business and meet its objectives. If MUNZ and its members do not like it, then go find another job. MUNZ do not own these jobs, the port does and it should be able to change the job requirements just like any other business.

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Lets not forget: An independent assessment by Ernst & Young of PoA remuneration showed that full time stevedores earned on average $91k/yr and part-time stevedores earned an average of $65k/yr

43 individuals at the port earned over $100k and the highest paid worker earned $122k. Ernst & Young also found that for every 40 hours paid only 26 were worked.

Is this Helen Kelly's definition of a worker - work 26hrs but get paid for 40?? Really?? 26hrs?? Really?? If NZ want to be world leaders we need to increase productivity.

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Is this the Ernst & Young who also audited Feltex Carpets?

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NZ has to start to increase productivity per person, other wise we will end up in a situation like Greece, Governments cant keep spending more than they earn, thats just basic maths.

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see ya Len - time to get a real mayor..... whoever that will be.

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I didn't vote for Brown, but he's done well to stick up for the taxpayers of Auckland instead of taking the easy option of caving into the union's demands. Not an easy position for a Labour man to be in, but he's done a good job of sticking by the POL.board.

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But doesn't all this demonstrate the folly of local (and central) governments owning businesses. When the going gets tough, the politicians want to interfere.

Brown's performance as a mayor is a different issue. So too is the whole Council's and its managerial czars.

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The intersting thing about this POA fiasco is that the news media journalists seem to be so out of touch with the 'real time opinions' of the average productive working Kiwi. More aligned to the opinions of the 'dependancy/working for families' group.

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