The Dim-Post

March 22, 2012

Cui bono

Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 7:51 am

Via the Herald:

Nearly 300 sacked port workers have won back their jobs after Ports of Auckland’s u-turn decision to drop moves to replace them with contractors and re-enter collective agreement talks with the Maritime Union.

The ports company, which had boasted a “bulletproof” legal case, made its surprise decision last night after an informal conference in the Employment Court.

The backdown follows a Herald investigation into a ports manager who was at the bargaining table with the Maritime Union and was also allegedly recruiting non-union wharfies for a private stevedoring company.

Emphasis mine. If this allegation is correct then it sheds a new light on things. Perhaps POALs management was merely acting opportunistically, but this raises the possibility that the decision to break the union was a commercial decision made to enrich POAL’s management – a decision that’s cost the citizens of Auckland somewhere in the region of a hundred million dollars.

If there’s substance to this – and why else would the company have reversed its position so dramatically? – then Brown’s decision to support the port over the wharfies looks even more ill-advised.


  1. One one hand, the recruiting thing is merely incontrovertible proof that the port management were negotiating in bad faith, and hence their legal case was thin as tissue paper and being forced back into negotiation by the employment court was as sure as night follows day. On the other hand, that the port management considered it entirely reasonable to negotiate in bad faith and with such a clear conflict of interest is a damning indictment of our managerial elite as hopelessly cronyist and openly corrupt. The arrogance, hubris and incompetence of an entire class has seldom been more starkly thrown into relief.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 22, 2012 @ 8:34 am

  2. IIRC they have agreed to go back to mediation (not quite ordered, but probably there was little room for POAL to move) because the plan to lay off the staff & subcontract is ipso facto a breach of good faith bargaining.

    The concept of good faith bargaining does seem rather fluid, though.

    “Do it our way or we’ll sack the lot of you” = acting in bad faith
    “Do it our way or we’ll shut your business down” = acting in good faith
    Verbal abuse and intimidation of people who aren’t us = acting in good faith if the abuse includes the word “scab”

    Comment by Rick Rowling — March 22, 2012 @ 8:46 am

  3. rick – i think the bad faith bit was

    “were negotiating with you, but also advertising your job to others”


    “Do it our way or we’ll sack the lot of you”

    Comment by framu — March 22, 2012 @ 9:01 am

  4. a hundred million dollars? i am confused… that is quite a number.

    Comment by Ben — March 22, 2012 @ 9:08 am

  5. COuld it be the ‘recruiting for a private stevadore’ is him pointing potential workers in the direction of a stevadore? It’s a very vague accusation and it wouldn’t be the first time a reporter has used emphatic language for something that is not quite so clear cut.

    Comment by insider — March 22, 2012 @ 10:55 am

  6. Me thinks you were maybe seduced by the inappropriately written (some would say bullsh!t) headline to the article.

    It goes on to say:
    “The company had agreed to halt contracting out for four weeks, he said, but it was in no way resiling from its position on contracting out.
    Mr Pearson said the company expected striking workers to apply for jobs with contractors.
    He denied the port company was changing its fixed position because it found itself in a weak legal position in the Environment Court.
    “The only thing that has changed is that the judge has encouraged the parties to have one more crack at mediation. That is it,” Mr Pearson said.”

    And now this:

    Comment by deserthead — March 22, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

  7. And now, an unlawful lockout. At least it makes things clear, for all but the blind.

    Along with the AFFCO lockout (again designed to drive down wages, remove conditions, and destroy the right to a working week), we’re seeing increased employer militancy, emboldened by a strongly supportive government, and a mostly timid opposition, unwilling to be accused of anything other than sensible centrism. At least the Greens know how their bread is buttered.

    AFFCO are owned by Talleys, who have an extensive history of treating their workers like disposable scum. It’s not a coincidence that they’re on the record as offering the National Party $1million in 2004, in order to further their agenda.

    This is the state of things in New Zealand. Until we enunciate it clearly, it continues unabated.

    Comment by George D — March 22, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

  8. POAL have just issued a lockout notice to take effect in two weeks despite yesterdays Employment Court ruling:
    This is a bizarre move from POAL management, perhaps it is time for them to go.

    Comment by Kevin — March 22, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

  9. “…why else would the company have reversed its position so dramatically..?”

    The answer appears to be the company has not reversed it’s position at all, it’s management God-Kings intend to do whatever they like and to hell with the court, the rule of law, and good faith bargaining.

    In short, Pearson and Gibson etc gone completely troppo, living out their very own Strangelovian fantasy with public assets as the pawns.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 22, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

  10. COuld it be the ‘recruiting for a private stevadore’ is him pointing potential workers in the direction of a stevadore?

    According to the Herald article I read last night (I know! Using the Herald as a resource! I’m as a shocked as you), the issue is compounded by the fact that the company appeared out of nowhere a couple of days BEFORE the bargaining began.

    And bad faith bargaining is basically: whatever we agree to, or you think we can agree to, I have absolutely no intention of going through with.

    Comment by Flynn — March 22, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

  11. I thought bad faith bargaining was more ‘I have already decided what I am going to do, but will go through the motions of negotiation even though it will make no difference whatsoever’. It’s not so much an implication that one party will break the agreement, rather than there will be no agreement except purely on that party’s terms.

    Also, the more Sanctuary blathers on about the elitist capitalist exploiter class and how evil every single one of them is, the more I think I must have been wrong about them all this time, and they’re probably mostly okay.

    Comment by helenalex — March 22, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

  12. Well I am glad you’ve got that off your chest.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 22, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

  13. If you were MUNZ and you’d just managed to get Ports of Auckland back to the negotiating table, and the Employment Court asked both parties to “exercise appropriate discretion and restraint regarding any media statements in relation to this matter given the continuation of bargaining”, would your next move be to:

    A. exercise appropriate discretion and restraint regarding any media statements in relation to this matter given the continuation of bargaining


    B. go straight to the news media proclaiming victory and criticising PoA for being unable to work constructively

    (Hint: Helen Kelly is involved)

    Comment by SHG — March 22, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

  14. Thanks Flynn. It would be nice if the reporters had actually blessed the story with a few facts to back up the ‘alleged’ recruitment (well is he or isn’t he?) like exactly how this unnamed port manager is recruiting. And the whole ‘

    Comment by insider — March 22, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

  15. Has Labour come up with a settlement plan yet, possibly some sort of Finnish solution, or is that one of the things Shearer intends to strumble across in the next 2 years.

    It’s not like the present industrial relations laws or the problems with the ports haven’t been around for a while.

    Comment by NeilM — March 22, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

  16. Maybe you missed this, but Labour isn’t the govt – National is.

    …this raises the possibility that the decision to break the union was a commercial decision made to enrich POAL’s management…

    Given the company’s run by ACT appointees, this is so plausible it’s astonishing we didn’t just assume it from the start.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — March 22, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

  17. Maybe you missed this, but Labour isn’t the govt – National is.

    No, but I think they want to be, unless Shearer is leaving that to be decided by his 2 years wandering in the wilderness as well.

    Labour have been very keen to tell Brown that he has to do something, even though they can’t say what he should do or what they themselves would do.

    The dispute is a product of the current industrial relations laws as well as the economic problems of NZ ports that have been in existence for some time. ie back when Labour was in office. There’s nothing new about the background to what’s going on.

    If Labour want to demand that Len Brown should do something about it then isn’t it reasonable that they say what they would do as a govt, since this dispute probably needs sorting out at the level.

    Comment by NeilM — March 22, 2012 @ 10:24 pm

  18. Of course it is a commercial decision. But it was a long term ‘gain’ for the port in terms of improved efficiencies from their point of view rather than a short term enrichment of management.

    I do not have allot of sympothy for the dock workers. I have heard from a couple of friends who have worked there that use or threat of violence to intimidate non union workers is used. Further I have heard allogations that they deliberately delay ships so they fall into another shift time for increased pay.

    The original terms were pretty reasonable in my opinion.

    Comment by Jeff83 — March 23, 2012 @ 12:35 am

  19. The dispute is a product of the current industrial relations laws…

    The dispute is a product of the Nat/ACT govt’s decision to make PoAL unaccountable to its shareholders, and the Nat/ACT govt’s decision to stack its board with ACT crazies. If you want to hear about what Labour would or wouldn’t do, it’s fairly safe to assume it wouldn’t have done either of those two things.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — March 23, 2012 @ 6:15 am

  20. @Psycho Milt, which aspects of the current employment law that enable the POAL to act they way they are were not on the books under Labour?

    It appears that the POAL are acting within the law and that the main driver to the dispute is the long-standing competition between the ports of Auckland and Tauranga.

    If Labour have any intention of doing something other than try and embarrass their former ally Len Brown I think we have a right to know. Are they going to change the employment law, are they going sort out the ports issue? What is it exactly they would do if they were to become ther govt.

    Comment by NeilM — March 23, 2012 @ 8:04 am

  21. If I owned a shop, and one of the managers had an undisclosed relationship with a supplier, I’d be able to sack them, and possibly involve Inspector Knacker.

    The people of Auckland own the port. It was bought with their money. The government have confiscated from them the right to control their property.

    Comment by Rich d'Rich (@rich_d_rich) — March 23, 2012 @ 12:26 pm

  22. @ #20

    It’s not really clear why you’re fixating on Labour here, but I agree with Milt’s take that the key problem is that so-called “Council Controlled Organisations” are not actually under the control of council.

    If this is really about competing with Tauranga then I would say that the mis-handling of employment negotiations which has cost $37million this year ($25mil of which is ongoing annual loss of Maersk & Fonterra business to Tauranga) constitutes such a comprehensive management failure that they should be gone already.

    The cause of this problem is in the Supercity legislation and the appointment of ACT cronies to CCO board positions.

    Comment by nommopilot — March 23, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

  23. +1 – what Nommo and Rich said. Axe the CCO structures… I mean, what does ACIL actually do here? Nothing aparently. While getting a big fat paycheck for doing nothing about their subsidiary (PoA) destroying asset value based on a highly dubious casualisation and union-busting agenda.

    Speaking of which – everyone in the media seem to gloss over one of the most salient points – that discrimination against someone because they belong to a union is illegal. Yet PoA managers are:
    “…allegedly recruiting non-union wharfies…”

    This meme has run through the whole conflict. Sure, it’s the MUNZ members who are affected by their CEA negotiations, but PoA managers keep referring to the need to get rid of the ‘union’ wharfies. So are they casualising all the non-union wharfies too? If not (and it appears not), illegal action, right?

    That is all apart from the fact that the existing wharfy CEA has provision for casual workers…

    Comment by bob — March 23, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

  24. It’s not really clear why you’re fixating on Labour here

    aren’t they supposed to be the alternative? If they do intend to be then isn’t it worthwhile finding out what their alternativeness might be? It seems to me to be good enough reason to be interested if not concerned.

    I realise it’s going to take 2 years for Shearer to come down from the mountain with the tablets but in the meantime shit happens.

    Comment by NeilM — March 23, 2012 @ 7:52 pm

  25. “aren’t they supposed to be the alternative?”

    Not my alternative…

    Sure it’s an interesting question but will have little or no impact on the actual outcome of this fracas. I think the interesting & important question is:

    “Who has the power to sack the board of POAL and when will they do it?”

    Allah willing, this will not be an election issue in 2014 so what Labour say or do about this issue is a minor intellectual curiosity at best. Sure, Labour could use this opportunity to declare that they are a party that supports workers and articulate principles of fairness and good faith. They might possibly suggest some kind of brilliant plan which shames the government by resolving the issue with elegance, simplicity and acceptability to all parties but, in the real world, the whole thing is a nasty PR war and no one is going to win in the end. It’s unsurprising that the big parties are maintaining their distance to try and avoid alienating one half of the populace or the other…

    Comment by nommopilot — March 24, 2012 @ 10:49 am

  26. “Who has the power to sack the board of POAL and when will they do it?”

    According to ACIL’s web site, its founding directors were Govt-appointed. Even then, the arms-length clause in the Auckland CCO structure prevents political interference in theory, but in practice it prevents the dismissal of sub-par directors, unlike with a private company where shareholders can make a vote of no-confidence in a sub-par director. And the CCO structure certainly didn’t have a Plan B for major industrial disputes.

    “It’s unsurprising that the big parties are maintaining their distance to try and avoid alienating one half of the populace or the other…”

    Which single-handedly sets it apart from 1951, where the state was directly involved to a T.

    Comment by deepred — March 25, 2012 @ 12:49 am

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