Our Islands Need Ships, Our Workers Need Jobs
New Zealand needs a balanced, efficient and affordable transport system.
It must be safe, accessible, environmentally sustainable and flexible enough to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Our existing intermodal system is systemically unbalanced.
A long-term overemphasis on the road network and trucking has created an uneven playing field for coastal shipping and rail.
With freight tasks expected to double in the next thirty years, we will face increasing pressure on truck drivers, road upkeep costs for tax and rate payers, and the entire transport infrastructure.
Workers and employers operating between two quake-prone islands must be able to trust in a reliable set of transport options.
Factoring in New Zealand’s commitment to environmental sustainability and CO2 reduction, we cannot continue to expand private road transport to the detriment of other, more carbon efficient methods.
There is no transport method more environmentally friendly or cost effective than coastal shipping.
The Labour Party in government must commit to making coastal shipping an integral part of our national transport strategy.
We also need greater investment in modern rail transport, and serious attention paid to the working hours and job conditions of truck drivers.
It is high time priority was given to the struggling New Zealand shipping industry. It needs an even playing field.
New Zealand’s tax, environment and labour laws are not consistently applied to the global shipping companies that dominate our coasts, and work that legitimately belongs to Kiwi seafarers is instead carried out by foreign crews passing through, often on low wages and appalling conditions.
Either our maritime laws must apply to all vessels trading on our coast or a strategy must be in place to help domestic shipping companies that employ NZ seafarers of all rankings compete on an even keel.
The Maritime Union has proposed the concept of a “Kiwiport”, with a view that ports throughout New Zealand should come under a coordinating structure.
As vital parts of our transport infrastructure, the future of these publicly owned facilities is too important to leave to chance.
The 2018 Labour-led government must do everything in its power to defend public ownership of ports, and promote rational, co-operative and future-focused relationships between them.
Despite the efforts of the current Government to lock New Zealand further into a fossil fuel dependent economy at a time of peak oil and climate crisis, coastal shipping offers a ready-made solution.
The regeneration of a regulated domestic shipping industry would lead to the stability of regional ports, providing an alternative to the large vessel syndrome promoted by global shipping operators whose arbitrary changes to calling schedules have ports on the hop.
Ports could be put under local ownership and control, but rather than being left to parochial competition, they would have to operate in an integrated framework.
A national ports plan and Government shareholding could carry out port rationalisation based on the public interest.
The savings on wasteful competition between ports would be enormous, and the transition to hub and feeder ports could be managed to ensure regional ports were not disadvantaged.
Ports would be operated on a basis of facilitating trade.
There are serious safety and environmental concerns around the use of methyl bromide as a fumigant in New Zealand ports.
The commercial and industrial use of highly toxic substances must only take place under strictly regulated conditions, using the safest possible methods.
Methyl bromide exposure can cause serious long-term health problems.
It has been linked to brain cancer and debilitating neurological disorders.
The most commonly used process for post-fumigation gas disposal is currently via release into the atmosphere, putting port workers and nearby communities at risk of exposure to this tasteless, odorless poison, and causing serious ozone depletion.
Port companies and contractors must be required to employ methods of gas disposal resulting in full recapture, in designated areas designed for the purpose.
Worksafe and the Environmental Protection Agency must investigate to the full extent of their powers any existing breaches of safety and environmental regulations relating to methyl bromide, with financial penalties where applicable.
Existing recapture targets must be met within established deadlines, and those responsible must be clearly designated and held accountable.
Industry Training Urgently Needed
Young Kiwis have the right to a career pathway and secure jobs in their own country.
It is no secret the maritime industry has an aging workforce, brought on largely by the lack of industry and government supported training.
It is easier for the company to employ a non-New Zealand national than it is to train workers here.
As trade unionists we are internationalists, and we support maritime workers from all over the world.
It is, however, symptomatic of a failed system when you see companies failing to invest to required levels in domestic training programs for young workers, and instead employing foreign seafarers on low wages.
New Zealand should implement a progressive quota system.
When you have unemployed New Zealand seafarers queuing up for jobs, any vacancies must be offered to them first, with wages and conditions that entice people to go to sea.
Without industry reforms at a top government level which provide a career path for our young and an even keel for NZ shipping, we will continue to see the demise of New Zealand ship owners and crews to predatory multinational companies.
The current National government is hell bent on letting it happen.
We need Labour to turn the ship around, before it’s too late.