Union workers at the Ports of Auckland voted unanimously they no longer had trust and confidence in the company’s leaders at a stopwork meeting to discuss two colleagues’ deaths and health and safety concerns.
Also discussed by about 140 members of the Maritime Union of New Zealand were the grim findings of a recent independent report into the port’s health and safety operating environment.
Union general secretary Craig Harrison said despite an invitation to the board chairman Bill Osborne and senior management to join the discussion, no one showed – and no acknowledgement of the invitation was ever received.
The cold shoulder was particularly disappointing given some commentators on the safety issues had urged the union and the company to engage better.
A recommendation of the independent review was that the company should prioritise building a trusting relationship with its own workforce and union as a critical part of improving the safety culture on site.
Transport Minister Michael Wood this week highlighted to the Herald that recommendation when responding to questions about his view of safety issues at the port.
The port company declined to comment.
Wood also noted WorkSafe was “proactively engaging” with the port company as it implemented reforms recommended by the review by Construction Health and Safety NZ.
But the union’s Harrison said WorkSafe should be playing a bigger part than that in rectifying systemic safety failures at the port identified by the review.
“They have the ability to become a facilitator and make things happen. Someone has to shift things soon – it’s getting to that level.”
Harrison said the union had yet to hear anything from port leaders in the aftermath of the report findings.
Asked if there was talk at the meeting of strike action, he said “not yet”.
Members at the meeting were “upset and frustrated”, he said.
But they didn’t want to create any more upset through industrial action than Covid-19 had already wrought.
The union has demanded chief executive Tony Gibson resign following the damning report.That call has been echoed by other port worker community representatives.
Harrison said the meeting also voted to demand union officials be represented on health and safety and fatigue management committees he believed were being created by port chairman Bill Osborne.
Workers also wanted the union to have a seat on the port board.
The port is wholly owned by Auckland Council, which commissioned the review of health and safety.
Recent calls for Gibson’s exit have extended to Osborne. He took over the chair’s job earlier this year after the exit of Liz Coutts.Osborne has been on the board since 2017.
Since 2017 there have been three deaths involving the port – two were stevedores involved in accidents and the third was that of a swimmer who was hit by a speeding port pilot boat.
There have also been a string of serious accidents, according to the union.
Harrison said one of the biggest issues the company must address is fatigue.
Some stevedores, crane drivers and lashers were working up to 58 hours every seven days, he said.
The port company has cited a stevedore labour shortage as one reason for its low productivity and weak financial performance during a time of surging consumer demand for imports.
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