Unbroken: Auckland Local 13 and the decade long struggle at Ports of Auckland

 

By Carl Findlay
National President

A Ports of Auckland manager once told me “hope is not a strategy.” What he didn’t realize was “hope is a goal that you collectively fight to get to.”

1 December 2021 marked a significant date in the 10-year struggle between the Maritime Union of New Zealand Auckland Branch Local 13 and Ports of Auckland management.

For the first time since 2015, union stevedores at the terminal can only be mandated to work 48 hours in a calendar week with voluntary overtime, instead of being mandated to work 60 hours per week.

The struggle between Auckland Local 13 and Ports of Auckland management has ultimately been about power and control. 10 years later it is the Maritime Union membership that has prevailed, and collectively we are taking back control of our working lives, but at great cost.

In early 2012 there was approximately 320 union stevedores at the terminal. After being on strike or locked out for six weeks, thanks to a court order we got back in the gate. Ports of Auckland management then turned the heat up on the union members by several notches, talk about intimidation and bullying. As always in any war there were plenty of selfish, greedy people who were willing, able and in fact enjoyed carrying out the orders of the new culture in management.

They starved Local 13 members of any overtime, limited the number of higher paid jobs a Local 13 member could pick up, upskilled anyone who was not a member of Local 13, but worst of all ignored any health and safety issues as whinging or politics. I recall one time complaining to the General Manager about Local 13 members treatment only to be told that “it was all perception!”

A lot of skilled workers and good union members decided they didn’t want to work for a port company that was obviously heading in anti-family, morally corrupt direction. So, they made the courageous call to resign and find an employer outside the red fence that had a moral compass and would value their skills.

Others moved overseas seeking a better way of life for themselves and their families, or it was their time to end their working life and retire. Whatever the reason, skilled members left in large numbers and were replaced by a work force that were brainwashed at induction with propaganda by port management that Ports of Auckland was a fun place to work.
The new staff were told not to listen to those Local 13 union wharfies as they were “lazy”, and they did not have the same principles, values and culture as Ports of Auckland. Damn right Local 13 members didn’t have the same principles, values and culture of the Board, management or the CEO.

The newbies were encouraged to embrace Ports of Auckland principles, values and new company culture that would have a devastating and lasting effect on staff, families and individuals and would leave us fighting for our jobs thanks to poor board and management decisions.

Ports of Auckland workplace deaths, serious injuries and systematic disregard for their employee’s health and safety have been well documented. Ports of Auckland have acknowledged this by pleading guilty and accepting responsibility for two serious injuries and two deaths during court proceedings.

Then there is the damage they have done to the shareholder who are the rate payers of Auckland with their failed policies and decisions.

The rank and file membership belief in our Union leadership and our legal team gave our officials the power to constantly lobby and push for meetings with Auckland city councillors and Government Ministers to getting our issues to the top table.

None of this would have been possible without the Local 13 Rank and File union membership which numbered approximately 80 stevedores and 30 engineering staff in 2019.

The Maritime Union and the wider union movement may have lost the Auckland terminal if not for the decision from our rank and file members to stay in the struggle, survive and fight for their rights at the terminal with the upmost dignity, courage and self-determination.

This is no small achievement. It is a demonstration of unity and solidarity that deserves to be acknowledge and is a lesson to all of what can be achieved if you are prepared to stick together and fight back.

So, to the Local 13 terminal union members who stood together from 2012–2022 we thank and salute you. You’re an inspiration to the union movement and working-class people of New Zealand.

United We Stand.

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