Action on casual workers welcomed

The Maritime Union has welcomed a Government announcement that it intends to improve protections for casual workers.

Maritime Union General Secretary Trevor Hanson says the Union has been arguing since 1991 that the practice of employing casual labour on the waterfront is degrading and unfair.

“It is similar to the situation of a century ago when workers lined up for work at the port gate, and many were victimized or refused work.”

Mr Hanson says peaks and troughs of work in the maritime industry have not always required supplementary labour to the permanent workforce, but with the disestablishment of the Waterfront Industry Commission in 1989 the permanent workforce had become increasingly casualized.

He says the situation has lead to casual workers on the books of up to four employers in their port, in some cases surviving for many years “on the end of a phone, waiting for a call.”

“We have cases in New Zealand of waterfront workers who have been employed in a port for up to fifteen years as casuals, waiting in vain for an opportunity to get a permanent job with the security that gives.”

Mr Hanson says these casual workers are denied training and a career path with future prospects, denied secure wages and conditions, denied regular hours, and denied the ability to plan their lives.

“The system effectively makes them second class citizens with bad effects on their working lives, families and community, as they work from day to day and have no ability to secure mortgages and a regular income.”

He says the responsibility for the current problems largely lies with international shippers whom play off port against port, stevedore against stevedore, leading to a race to the bottom as the easiest way to save money is through creating a pool of insecure casual labour.

Mr Hanson says the Maritime Union has proposed a solution that a regulated pool of casuals is established in each port that stevedores employ workers from, and draw permanent labour from.

He says the Union welcomes Government action on this pressing social issue but much work remains to be done.

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