The Maritime Union has backed calls by whistle blowers at Port of Tauranga who have come forward after suffering serious workplace injuries.
Several workers spoke to Newshub after suffering chronic injuries while driving long shifts on container straddles, but had to remain anonymous for fear of retribution by employers.
Maritime Union of New Zealand National Secretary Craig Harrison says Port of Tauranga gets glowing references as a profitable business in the media – but that profit is obtained from unsatisfactory working practices.
Mr Harrison was a waterfront worker at Ports of Auckland for 19 years and worked as a straddle driver during that time.
He says many workers throughout New Zealand end up with chronic injuries from working with port machinery, and he himself suffered a neck injury.
Mr Harrison says long shifts and a relentless drive for profit over the wellbeing of workers were underlying issues, and the Port of Tauranga was notorious for the bad conditions of many workers inside the port gates.
“The problem is the business model at Port of Tauranga.”
Mr Harrison says that Port of Tauranga contracts out much of its stevedoring work to smaller operations.
He says these contracting companies have one way of making a profit – by pushing their workers to the limit.
“12 hour shifts or more are the norm, casualization, irregular shifts, and people working unsafe hours because they need the money.”
He says the people in charge of the Port and its shareholders are not interested in what happens to workers.
Mr Harrison says he does not accept the Port’s claims that safety is its number one priority, and he says management just want the issue out of the public eye.
“They are interested in profit, they have set up operations so they collect the cash, but insulate themselves from the consequences.”
Mr Harrison says any port will be more productive in the long term if its work practices and infrastructure are sound, and this was the goal for the Maritime Union.
He says the Maritime Union is calling for a national inquiry into health and safety at New Zealand ports after a number of deaths and serious injuries in recent years.
Chronic injuries should be part of such an inquiry, he says.
There was a culture of retribution in some ports, where management would target any worker who stood up for safety or their rights.
He says the Union is organising workers in the Port of Tauranga and local stevedores to improve conditions of work.