July 1, 2022

Union says Auckland ports are too picky about port workers

A straddle carrier in the ports of Auckland.  (File photo)

PROVIDED

A straddle carrier in the ports of Auckland. (File photo)

An experienced driver has been turned away by Ports of Auckland despite desperately needing these workers, a union claims.

The port lacks critical staff, such as horse-drawn drivers, which he says is a major factor in the massive backlog of imported goods at its docks and the long wait for ships waiting to dock.

However, the Maritime Union published an email from a former port employee dated December 2, which rejected him for a job as a rider driver, even though he had more than 10 years experience in driving straddle carriers and other machinery in port.

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The letter thanked the candidate and stated that at this stage “we believe that your experience does not meet our criteria for this position”. This offered him a whipping role instead.

The port is in the process of setting up an automated system for its overlaps and Maritime Union of New Zealand (Munz) National Secretary Craig Harrison has blamed any ‘labour shortages’ at the port on continual staff reductions.

The rejection letter showed Auckland Ports were not exhausting all opportunities available to them to resolve congestion, Harrison said.

“Over the past few years our union has highlighted the under-utilization of stevedores in the various roles as well as the reluctance of Auckland Ports to train Munz members in some of the key roles.”

Harrison said the port had relied on staff working excessive hours, which stevedores had worked before the Covid-19 lockdown.

But due to health and safety concerns, he said the port had reduced the number of hours required to be worked over a seven-day period. At the same time, the automation project continued to fall short of schedule.

The congestion was affecting the whole country, Harrison said. “Change is needed at the top of Auckland Ports.”

Auckland Ports is the largest inbound cargo port in the country.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Auckland Ports is the largest inbound cargo port in the country.

However, a spokesman for Auckland Ports, Matt Ball, said the union’s claims were “malicious and untrue”.

“Before training people to become crane and forklift operators, they are tested for aptitude and promoted on that basis, regardless of their union affiliation. Many Munz members are eligible, but not all. It’s life.”

However, in the case of the experienced driver, he said the person received the email in error and gave the media a copy of a follow-up email.

”The error was noticed immediately and the person was phoned the same day and informed of the error. They were also informed that their application would be considered further and a follow-up email was sent. ”

An email exchange between Auckland Ports and an experienced rider driver who applied for a job, after initially being rejected.

Things

An email exchange between Auckland Ports and an experienced rider driver who applied for a job, after initially being rejected.

Ball said the port also rejected the suggestion that the automation project was the main reason for the congestion problem.

The project was due to be in place in March, the quietest time of year, but the port has maintained that after the borders were closed it was unable to bring vital experts into the country , so only about half of the system is currently working.

He hopes the automation will be fully operational next March.

Ball said it was also incorrect for the automation project to replace up to 50 stevedores. The reality was that the port would likely end up with more staff due to increased capacity.

”’Not a single longshoreman has lost his job because of automation. In fact, staff have been made clear that there will be no change in resources until at least six months after the automation is fully implemented.

“The port will have additional capacity through automation and could gain more volume, so it is quite possible that more staff will be needed.”

The port said stevedores were not working excessive hours, but confirmed their hours had been reduced, in part because of a fatal accident to a stevedore in 2018.

”Schedules change according to demand. At the start of the year, when things were quieter, staff were barely working their guaranteed minimum hours,’ Ball said.

”During peaks the hours are longer, but fatigue is well managed thanks to the agreed working hours policy.”

Laboom Dyer was killed when his horse-drawn crane overturned. Ports of Auckland was fined $540,000 by the Auckland District Court and ordered to pay $130,000 in reparations to the Dyer family.