Shale Chambers, Chair, Waitemata Local Board

The Ports of Auckland is an integral part of the economic, social, historic and cultural life of our city.   The founding fathers and mothers who arrived here in the mid 1800s saw the Waitemata Harbour and the waterfront area that is now owned by Auckland Council as an entranceway to Auckland and New Zealand.   Wharves were built and land reclaimed from the sea to take the new buildings for marine and fishing endeavours and warehousing.   Boats came into the harbour to disgorge passengers and freight and then loaded up again to take our produce and goods to the world.   Roads and rail joined up with the ports and then trams and motorways.   Our villages and city were built outwards from our waterfront to the south, north, east and west.

Working on the wharves to unload and then reload freight and goods has always been an important industry, first for mostly semiskilled labour but then as mechanisation kicked in for highly skilled machine drivers and operators.   The Watersiders union has been the backbone of the union movement and all the major industrial disputes has seen them stand up for all New Zealand’s workers in disputes with employers and Government.

The wharfies’ employers have changed over the years but they were always within a Government or Local Body ownership… the Harbour Board, the Auckland Regional Council and now our Auckland Council.

So to many it may have seemed like ‘business as usual’ when the Ports were legislated as a Council Controlled Organisation in the reorganisation of Auckland Local Government in 2010.   However a National Government had put a ‘silver lining’ in the pocket of the Ports Chief Executive Tony Gibson. The Auckland Transition Authority at the Government direction had removed all but two of the experienced directors of the Ports.   In addition they had put the appointment of the Ports of Auckland directors into the hands of the ACIL, the Investments CCO and thus twice removed from its owners … the people of Auckland via the Auckland Council.

As a twice removed Council asset with only an ‘at arm’s length’ ability to have any say over one of Auckland’s important institutions, the newly appointed directors have been able to hoodwink Councillors with soothing words about how they were bargaining in good faith with the union.  Their real game plan was not even a secret… we all knew they were advertising abroad to replace union workers with cheaper contract staff and privatisation was back in the vocabulary as the ultimate aim of the CCO.

At a time when the Waitemata Local Board elected members are meeting with their constituents and fronting up in public meetings to discuss residents priorities in the Waitemata area,  non-elected directors of the Ports that supports 22% of the Auckland economy and sustains 187,000 jobs are doing the opposite.   Behind closed doors they were making changes they could never sell at a public meeting and get public support for.

The dispute has revealed the ‘real agenda’ of Auckland’s local government reorganisation.  Aucklanders now appear to have no say over one of our enormously critical assets, and the future use of the money from those assets are put at risk with risky decisions by the new Ports’ directors and the CEO.  Tying the Port up in knots in a manufactured dispute while not telling the owners the real agenda, and loosing large amounts of trade for Auckland are not what we bought into when we elected local politicians to lead our city.

Mike Lee, Sandra Coney, Shale ChambersHundreds of millions of dollars of profits and dividends from the highly successful Ports have been returned to the Auckland economy over the last 20 years which has allowed the renaissance in public transport to occur.   Former owner of the Ports, the ARC, with local Councillor Mike Lee at its head, oversaw the wise spending of that money in investment in trains, ferry terminals, train stations, and the North Shore busway.

It was only in September last year that Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson himself boasted the rate of cargo unloaded off ships was “the best ever recorded at the Ports of Auckland”. The union says Auckland’s port is the second most time-efficient in Australasia, second only to Tauranga.

Your Waitemata Local Board has been one of the many voices urging both union and PortsLeila Boyle, Julie Fairey management to get back to the bargaining table and bargain how the labour laws of our land intend.  In good faith.   We all hope that the discussions and negotiations now happening after the successful court case by the union to bring the Ports management back to the table will end up in a new collective and the Ports and its unionised workforce working again in the Auckland economy.

The city and its elected representatives have many difficult hurdles and challenges ahead of us over the last 18 months of this term, and risky decisions by Council Controlled Organisations have no place in our future.

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Edited from Ponsonby News article in the April 2012 edition