Why wharfies are striking – in their own words (+ photos)
Articles and photos by Simon Oosterman. Hi-res photos are available here. Please feel free to distribute.
The media have given plenty of space to Ports of Auckland management, but nobody has canvassed the opinions of those most affected by the company’s decisions, the workers. Here we get behind the news to the men, their wives and the children affected by the Ports of Auckland actions and proposals.
For the background to the dispute read the Maritime Union of New Zealand and Council of Trade Union fact sheet and the Port of Auckland’s industrial dispute updates.
The Thorton family: “They want drones when we are actually parents”
Shaun Thorton, 43, drives a straddle at the Ports of Auckland where he has worked for 18 years. He met his wife Leah at the port where she worked before becoming a fulltime mum looking after their four kids: Ben (9), twins Max and Amy (5) and Nina (4).
“We want predictability so we can have a family life,” he says. “We only get one weekend off every third weekend meaning I work 35 weekends in the year. I’m striking for the kids.”
Leah interrupts: “and for the marriage”.
“Shaun’s work is a nightmare for me and the kids,” she says. “Dad only went to two soccer games last year and couldn’t come to the preschool Christmas party. We’ve learnt to live with it but it’s far from perfect.”
“It’s clear from the ports casualisation plan that they want drones, when we are actually parents. You can’t sustain a family as a casual and deal with the everyday stuff parents have to put up with. One of our kids has a chronic illness and another is getting progressively deaf in one ear. I should be able to count on partner to help out with hospital visits and specialist’s visits.
“Everyone complains about irresponsible teenagers going out on town and they wonder where their parents are. They are hereThe Wallace family: “It’s not just husbands affected, it’s our families too” and in other unsociable jobs. The only other option to this work is working on the minimum wage.
“It astounds me that they are trying to increase productivity by ruining our work life balance – do they want people sleeping on the job?” she says. “Can I complain to the company about not having annual leave or sick days?”
The Wallace family: “It’s not just husbands affected, it’s our families too”
Mark Wallace is a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland. He worked his way up from a casual to a permanent crane driver over 18 years. Mark and wife Katrina have two children, Ashley (9) and Rebecca (7).
“I’m trying to protect my family life,” he says. “The company wants the right to tell me at midnight, eight hours before a shift, that I don’t have the shift anymore. How can I plan a family life around that?”
“The company goes on about caring for its employees, but they treat us like shit. We’ve given them the best container rates ever. If they really cared about us, we’d be inside working. We had to strike at Christmas just to get time off with our kids.”
Katrina, is a self-employed dress-maker who works from home.
“I brought the kids down to the picket show solidarity with my husband,” she says. “But it’s not just husbands affected, it’s our families too. The company’s proposed changes would be hard for me and the kids. I couldn’t take on huge jobs because I wouldn’t know day-to-day what Mark would be doing. I wouldn’t even be able to count on him to pick up the kids from school.”
The Witehira family: “Keeping family time is more important than a pay rise”
Jermaine Witehira, 31, got his first ever job at the Ports of Auckland where he has been working as a stevedore for 14 years. Jermaine and wife Destiny have three children, Gabrielle (5), Karine (2) and Jayda (1)
“I’m doing this for my family and my mates,” he says. “A 10% pay rise isn’t worth the new casual roster system – family time is more important than a pay rise.
“The company says we earn $91k a year – I‘ve never earned that in the 14 years I’ve been here. I get around $64k but I have to work 24 hours overtime and that costs my family.”
Destiny says Jermaine doesn’t see his kids because he leaves for work at 5:30am and gets back at 11:30pm.
“Being a young family is hard enough, but with his hours it feels like I’m a solo mum,” she says. “If the company gets what it wants I’ll have to put my kids in day care and get a job. The thing is that the job would probably only just cover day care costs and I’d have to find a job that worked around casual hours.”
Brandon Cherrington, 38, has worked at the Ports of Auckland for 1½ years. He is a permanent part-timer and is only guaranteed 24 hours a week. Brandon has a 1½ year old daughter.
“This strike is all about our families,” he says. “We are here supporting the boys to keep and improve our conditions. With the company’s [proposed] new flexibility, they want us to be on call and I won’t be able to plan activities with my daughter anymore.”
Shaun Osbourne works at the Ports of Auckland. Because he is a casual employee, he hasn’t had a single guaranteed hour in the eight years he has worked there.
“My shifts are allocated the day before I go to work,’ he says. “I could get anywhere between eight and 48 hours a week which could be in the morning, afternoon or graveyard or a combination of the shifts. I won’t be crossing over. We’ve got to make sure permanent workers don’t end up like us casuals.”
Wayne Wolfe, 58, works as a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland. He has worked on the ports for 35 years. Wayne has three adult children and two grandchildren, including a two-week old baby. Wayne is an executive member of Local 13 of the Maritime Union.
“Many of these young fellas are casuals and have had busted up marriages because of their casualised hours,” he says. “When I first joined, conditions were brilliant and I am doing my best to leave it that way.”
Ron Bell, 53, is a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland. He will have worked on the waterfront for 31 years this coming April and has been union since he was 17. He has four daughters Jac (20), Katherine (18) and twins Samantha and Amanda (15). He is an executive member of Local 13 of the Maritime Union.
“I just want our guys to keep their jobs on decent hours and not get shat on waiting by the phone 24 hours a day,” he says. “People before us made our conditions what they are today and they should stay that way.”
Ken Ziegler, 49, has worked as a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland for 12 years. Ken is the main provider for his son Carlos (10). He is an executive member of Local 13 of the Maritime Union.
“It’s really simple,” he says. “The company is trying to casualise the entire workforce to keep labour costs down.”
Napo Kuru, 27, has worked as a casual lasher at the Ports of Auckland for four years.
“I’m on $16 an hour as a casual and can get anywhere between 16 and 30 hours a week,” he says. “We have the same fight as the permanent boys. They want everyone to be cheap which will drive down everyone’s pay.”
“We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.” – John Key, 29 January 2008
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