Home > Kiwi Heroes, Social Issues, The Body Politic > Why wharfies are striking – in their own words (+ photos)

Why wharfies are striking – in their own words (+ photos)

Simon Oosterman

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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.

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The Thorton family: “They want drones when we are actually parents”

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FAIR ROSTERING: From the left – Max Thorton (5), Shaun (43), Nina (4), Amy (5), Leah (37) and Ben (9). Photo: Simon Oosterman

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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?”

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The Wallace family: “It’s not just husbands affected, it’s our families too”

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FAMILY TIME: From centre left – Mark Wallace, Ashley (9), Rebecca (7) and Katrina. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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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.”

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The Witehira family: “Keeping family time is more important than a pay rise”

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POWER TO THE FAMILY: Jermaine Witehira (31), Jayda (1), Karine (2), Gabrielle (5) and Destiny. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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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.”

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Brandon Cherrington

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FAMILY PICKET: Brandon Cherrington and his 1 1/2 year old daughter. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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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.”

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Shaun Osbourne

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JOB SECURITY: Casual worker Shaun Osbourne on the picket line. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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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.”

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Wayne Wolfe

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FACTS: Wayne Wolfe has done his research. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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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.”

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Ron Bell

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PICKET: Local 13 member Ron Bell (53). Photo: Simon Oosterman

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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.”

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Ken Ziegler

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STAUNCH: Ken Ziegler standing tall. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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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.”

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Napo Kuru

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SOLIDARITY: Casual Napo Kuru stands with permanent workers. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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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.”

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Quote

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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Additional photos

Simon Oosterman

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  1. 16 January 2012 at 10:41 am
  2. 16 January 2012 at 11:55 am

    I noted your blog, “Share Investor”. This comment leapt out at me,

    “The Maritime Union and its head, Gary Parsloe, were unwilling – or unable – to come to the party and let go of perks. In one glaring example that would have them being paid for work they didn’t do and as a consequence the union workforce at the POA site are in jeopardy of losing heir jobs to workers who are now in the process of being employed on an individual contracting out basis. Their rates of pay are also pretty spectacular for semi-skilled work.”

    Really?

    Let’s analyse that sweeping statement…

    “The Maritime Union and its head, Gary Parsloe, were unwilling – or unable – to come to the party and let go of perks.”

    That is untrue. The Maritime Union has put several offers onto the bargaining table. Even when the negotiators were near an agreement, the PoA walked away, citing that casualisation of the workforce was a bottom-line.

    PoA management offered a 10% wage increase, in return for casualisation. The Maritime Union rejects that, and would settle for a 2.5% increase.

    “In one glaring example that would have them being paid for work they didn’t do…”

    “Work they didn’t do”? What you mean is that management want to casualise the workforce and have staff on-call, waiting by the phone, for a call to come to work. That work might entail one hour – and then be sent home again?

    Not only is that an unfair system, but it will simply drive down wages further in NZ. Haven’t we had a gutsful of low wages by now? No one else works like that – why expect maritime workers to have such a regime?

    “…and as a consequence the union workforce at the POA site are in jeopardy of losing heir jobs to workers who are now in the process of being employed on an individual contracting out basis.”

    You’re confusing cart and horse. It has been the position of managagement from Day One, to casualise the workforce and put workers onto individual contracts.

    THAT is why the Union are on strike. Not the other way around (which wouldn’t make sense.)

    “Their rates of pay are also pretty spectacular for semi-skilled work.”

    Again, not true.

    The $91,000 quoted by PoA would only be feasible with massive amounts of over-time. In other words, it is mis-information. (Ie; bullshit.)

    The hourly rate for maritime workers can be from $16 an hour (quoted by one worker) up to $27 an hour.

    Let’s pull out the ole steam-powered calculator and do some sums…

    $27 X 40 hours = $1,080 per week.

    $1,080/wk X 52 weeks = $56,160.

    Hardly “spectacular”.

    And by the way, I would hardly call driving a 800-900 tonne port container crane as “semi skilled work”. In fact, the PoA states,

    “Fergusson has the most advanced and comprehensive container terminal infrastructure in New Zealand, with five post-panamax ship-to-shore cranes on 610 metres of berth. Each of the cranes is twin-lift capable and the three newest cranes boast extended outreach to help better service larger, wider ships.

    The terminal is also home to the largest and most sophisticated straddle carrier fleet in New Zealand, made up almost entirely of new hybrid diesel-electric machines.” – http://www.poal.co.nz/facilities_services/facilities/container_terminals.htm

    Anyway, so what if the maritime workers had been paid that mythical $91,000? The Prime Minister, John Key, has stated on more than one occassion that he wants to see wages raised in this country – partly to motivate our skilled workers not to leave for Australia.

    Paying skilled port workers $56,160 is not “spectacular” by any means.

    “It would have been much better for the union and its members to agree that they must become more efficient of course but that looks unlikely to happen now that their strikes and stoppages have brought the company to its knees and the issue to a head.”

    Why would it have been “much better for the union and its members to agree that they must become more efficient” when that “efficiency” would have resulted in,

    * casualisation of their jobs
    * lower pay
    * no job security
    * a loss of experience on the Ports, as skilled workers left for Australia

    What possible gain is there to accepting conditions that DRIVE DOWN wages?

    Especially when John Key was so adamant in 2008, that he wanted to see wages rise,

    “We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.” – John Key, 29 January 2008

    We either pay our skilled workers – whether professional or blue-collar – appropriately, or see them shipping of to Australia.

  3. 16 January 2012 at 2:36 pm

    The union has rejected the casualisation of the workforce that is needed for the port to survive Macca. Getting paid for work that you didn’t do comes in when you go over the 8 hour shift and work an hour or two into the next one and get paid for 8! Nice work if you can get it.

    Workers will have a one month roster, so it is hardly “sitting by the phone”. $56 k is the minimum and its scales up from there to as much as $122,000.00 for some when all the generous perks are added in. Well paid for a semi skilled job.

    • 16 January 2012 at 4:20 pm

      Who sez “casualisation of the workforce that is needed for the port to survive“?

      According to the National Business Review, Ports of Auckland posted a $24.9 million profit in the year to June – up 2.1% on the previous year. http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/ports-auckland-profits-hold-steady-mn-99551

      And in October 2010, Managing director Jens Madsen said that “overall container volumes in the three months to September 30 were up nearly 8% on the same period last year“.

      “Getting paid for work that you didn’t do comes in when you go over the 8 hour shift and work an hour or two into the next one and get paid for 8! Nice work if you can get it.”

      It also means that you may have to work the entire next-day shift. Whatever hours is actually worked – that’s your day gone. And if you’re working two or three ships in a row, and only work 4 hours into your next 8 hour shift – I’d say you’d be pretty well buggered.

      There are other jobs where, if you’re called in, you are paid a minimum. That is to stop employers from playing “silly buggers” by demanding an hour of work, and then being sent home.

      We also have, for example, politicians who rarely sit in Parliament – despite being paid $141,800 and upward. http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/5981284/MPs-get-pay-rise-package-of-7000?comment_msg=posted#post_comment

      Next time you’re watching Question Time in the House, on Parliament TV – have a look at the number of empty seats in the Debating Chamber. You and I are paying for those empty seats.

      At least maritime workers are actually working.

      “Workers will have a one month roster, so it is hardly “sitting by the phone”.”

      You cannot plan ahead on one month rosters. It becomes harder to raise a family; pay the mortgage; and other bills. And even if the roster is one month ahead – what is to stop the PoA from reducing to two weeks ahead in the future? Or week-by-week? Nothing.

      It also drives down wages, as I pointed out, countering John Key’s pledge to raise wages. If this country is to compete with Australia for skilled professionals and blue-collar workers, we better be prepared to pay for it.

      How would you feel about your job; your hours; and your salary being publicly analysed and judged by people who know nothing about your role; your duties; the hours to work; etc? None too happy, I’d wager.

      “Workers will have a one month roster, so it is hardly “sitting by the phone”. $56 k is the minimum and its scales up from there to as much as $122,000.00 for some when all the generous perks are added in. Well paid for a semi skilled job.”

      I don’t understand why you feel it is right and fair that employees are suddenly changed to casuals, simply because the company demands it. That removes job security not just for maritime workers – but potentially for every other employee in this country.

      It is also a hard, dangerous, dirty job, which is done in all-weather conditions; day or night. I don’t envy their job one iota. Would you do it?

      It’s easy for people to sit in judgement, ‘Share Investor’. Especially those sitting in very comfortable chairs; in air-conditioned offices; playing with speculative money and bits of paper.

      And as I said, driving 800-900 tonne port cranes is hardly “semi-skilled”.

  4. seanm@gmail.com
    19 January 2012 at 12:56 pm

    ummm – if they aren’t happy with the schedule and when they have to work, then perhaps they should get alternative jobs?

    Its that simple. Personal choice. It is a free land, where one can be whatever they want to be. I wasn’t happy with my last job 3 years ago so I went and got one for a company who treated staff better and paid better.

    I would be so embarrassed at the example I was setting my son, if when I’m not happy with something, all I do is sit around whinging about life not being fair. I don’t want him to grow up blaming everyone else whenever anything goes against him.

    • 19 January 2012 at 7:41 pm

      That is precisely what our doctors, nurses, builders, and other skilled professionals and tradespeople are doing, Sean; moving to other, better paid jobs.

      Unfortunately, those better paid jobs are mostly in Australia.

      Which doesn’t help New Zealand much, does it?

    • Theodore
      23 January 2012 at 11:52 pm

      Well why not Sean? Everyone should just go to another job huh? Because its just so goddamn easy to pick up a job just like that huh?

      If you only knew how pathetic what you said sounds like.

      Free land my arse.

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