Where does Minister of Transport Steven Joyce stand in regional ports furore?

The Maritime Union is asking where the Government and the Minister of Transport stands on the future of regional ports after Fonterra announced it was withdrawing from some regional ports in favour of transporting goods by long distance rail last month.

Jobs are under threat, casualization is hitting workers hard, and the viability of regional ports is under a cloud after the decision, which has created intense debate in the regions and the transport industry.

Maritime Union General Secretary Trevor Hanson says the union’s national executive met with a Fonterra representative earlier this week.

He says the meeting was a useful initial step but none of the issues had been resolved.

“We want to see Fonterra registering the fact they have a social responsibility to the communities they work with, not just a narrow focus on short term benefits for their shareholders.”

However he says the Government seems to have “turned on the auto pilot and left the bridge.”

Mr Hanson says that no satisfactory response has been forthcoming about the impact of Government investment in rail and how this could influence pricing, but questions were continuing to be asked throughout the industry.

“The Maritime Union supports public investment in rail, but if ports and coastal shipping are not receiving the same public investment, then this cannot lead to the most effective solution.”

Mr Hanson says there has to be a co-ordinated national strategy for ports and transport where Fonterra had a role but was not able to dominate for their own benefit.

He says the lack of response from the Transport Minister is a concern as it appears the Government had “gone to sleep” on a major issue in the regions and the heartland New Zealand communities it electioneered on.

“This is bigger than Fonterra. We are talking about the future of transport in New Zealand and if we leave it up to the biggest player to call the shots, then the result will not be a good one.”

The Maritime Union is pressing for “social responsibility” from Fonterra and a national transport strategy that works for the regions following the meeting between the union and the dairy giant.

Mr Hanson says that appears some progress has been made in Port Taranaki with extra work being found for the port by Fonterra, which would lessen the impact of its sudden switch to a long distance rail option.

He says that it is imperative that similar arrangements be made with the Port of Timaru, where job losses and the casualization of the workforce are occurring, with the port reeling from the loss of more than half of its container traffic.

The following resolution was passed this week at the national executive meeting of the Maritime Union of New Zealand in Wellington:

“The Maritime Union national executive registers its concerns at the actions of Fonterra in its arbitrary decision to stop shipments through Timaru and Taranaki and also the effect this will have on all the other ports”

“The Union will continue to campaign for a full and proper discussion among all stakeholders including ports, maritime workers, farmers, regional business, local government and national government to ensure that regional ports are not disadvantaged by Fonterra’s decisions.”

“Further more the unilateral move to bypass the environmental and commercially viable option of coastal shipping, is of further concern especially when New Zealand’s carbon footprint is of real concern in the future of NZ exports.”

The Maritime Union of New Zealand was formed in 2003 and represents waterfront workers, seafarers and related workers throughout New Zealand.

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