May 20, 2024

International report on Auckland Port automation shows safety and economic dangers of privatisation proposals

A new report from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) – Lessons in failure: Automation at the Ports of Auckland – demonstrates the risks presented by any privatisation of the Ports of Auckland, says the Maritime Union of New Zealand.

Maritime Union of New Zealand National Secretary Craig Harrison says the raises important red flags in the privatisation debate.

He says while the report is focused on the failures of the automation project, it illustrates how bad privatisation would be for the Auckland economy and for the national economy.

“The first issue is the claim Ports of Auckland is a financial failure. The report shows POAL was one of the best performing ports in the Southern Hemisphere before automation and it is returning back to that level of operation now management has changed, and automation has been abandoned.

“The second issue is the huge cost of the automation failure to the economy. Workers paid for it with their lives and the drop in throughput and the congestion that it created cost Aotearoa New Zealand more than a billion dollars. There is a huge risk attached to further meddling in port operations. Handing over the Ports to offshore owners would give them massive leverage over our entire economy and potentially put lives at risk.”

“The third issue is how a private owner could find efficiencies in current operations.

“The former POAL management tried automation and attacking working conditions and the result was efficiency went down. The new port management realise that and are working with the union, and POAL operations are quickly returning to their former levels of throughput.

“This report shows there’s no fat to cut in port operations. The only way a private operator could get the kind of return they expect would be to pump up prices and the costs to Auckland businesses and, ultimately, to the people of Auckland and our economy as a whole.

One of the report’s authors, Professor Nigel Haworth, agrees.

“We ran a microscope across port operations and clearly identified the terrible harm the ‘go-faster’ approach had on safety. People paid for it with their lives. Alongside that there was a huge financial impact caused by attempting to automate a port that wasn’t suitable for it.

“There are serious lessons to be learned from this report for other ports considering automating, but also for the future of Ports of Auckland.

“Ports of Auckland is critical infrastructure and is effectively a monopoly. Putting it in private hands would give the owner a licence to strip-mine Auckland’s businesses and our economy and risk a return to the dangerous and unsafe practices that left so many families of workers bereaved.”

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