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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

Related blog items

At gunpoint, maybe?

Harbour battles & casual fear

Support workers & their families

Facebook: Support Ports of Auckland Workers

The Standard:  Meet the wharfies and their families

Facebook: Maritime Union of New Zealand

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At gunpoint, maybe?

6 January 2012 4 comments

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I recall the rise and rise of the Solidarity Free Trade Union movement in Poland in 1980, when Polish workers rose up against their communist government Overlords and said “enough!”. Workers wanted their own, independent,  trade unions – not the puppet organisations run by, and for, the Polish communist party.

It gained strength and became not just the first truly independent worker’s union in a communist state – but practically a grass-roots de facto Opposition to Poland’s one-party government.

In 1981,   the New Zealand Polish Association in Wellington; various local trade unions; and an organisation that I belonged to, organised one of the largest street marches – estimated to number up to ten thousand – in support of Solidarity.

Solidarity was hailed around the world.

Leaders in the West hailed Solidarity as peoples’ desire to be free and belong to whatever associations they wanted. The subtext, of course, was pointing out the irony that workers were protesting against their own supposedly workers-party, in a supposedly workers’ “socialist paradise”.

No wonder Western leaders of the likes of Reagan,  Thatcher, et al, supported the Solidarity movement – it was a “poke in the eye” for the Soviet Union and it’s Eastern European satellite  client-states. (Though I doubt that Western leaders had suddenly become over-night champions of workers’ rights.)

It seems therefore somewhat duplicitous that some folk now condemn free trade unions and want their activities curtailed, using  “whatever action they need to take to resolve this matter“,

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Source

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Really? Ex-National MP and mayoral aspirant, Christine Fletcher has called for the strike to be “resolved”, using “whatever action they need to take to resolve this matter“?!

Them is powerful words; “whatever action they need to take“.

I am reminded that the communist regime in Poland also attempted to employ “whatever action they needed” to crush the Solidarity Trade Union.

The communists – led by General Jaruzelski – declared martial law on December 13, 1981, which lasted until July 1983. Under cover of martial law, thousands of Polish activists (we would call them freedom fighters) were imprisoned. Up to 100 innocent people may have been killed in the crack-down, that was ruthless even by communist standards.

So when Ms Fletcher calls for the Auckland Port strike to be “resolved” using “whatever action they need to take to resolve this matter” – that statement makes me uneasy. She obviously has no real understanding what it takes to smash a  trade union.

Does Ms Fletcher want the Maritime Union disbanded? It’s bank account(s) frozen? It’s assets seized? It’s organisers arrested and thrown into prison?

I’m under no illusion that there are quasi-sociopathic extremists in this country – as around the world in every other society – who  would welcome living in a repressive, autocratic regime that would imprison trade unionists. (And possibly journalists, left-wing commentators and bloggers, judges, and anyone else who doesn’t tow the Party line. It’s called fascism.)

But I’m disappointed and saddened that Christine Fletcher is so mis-guided as to be espousing what amounts to a state crackdown on perfectly legal organisations, and their members exercising their democratic rights.

The same democratic rights, I might add, that eventually brought down the Polish government and started the domino-collapse of communism and the Soviet Empire.

I am even further saddened when I recall – and remind readers – that Ms Fletcher was  a principled politician who resigned as Minister in  September 1997, because she objected to the sale of  publicly-owned assets of the ARST (Auckland Regional Services Trust)  by the then, Bolger-led National government.

Whether or not Ms Fletcher supports the action of the Martime Union and the Ports of Auckland Board should be set aside. Democracy is, by necessity, a messy process.

Would we want it any other way?

Especially cosidering the alternatives? Perhaps we should ask the people of Syria.

When Ms Fletcher demands “whatever action they need to take to resolve this matter“, what, precisely, is she hinting but not actually putting into words?

At gunpoint, maybe?

Interestingly, the Maritime Union is asking for actually less than the Ports of Auckland Board is offering; 2.5% as opposed to the company’s 10%,

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Full Story

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The “sticking point” is the companies plan to casualise the workforce.

As commentator and blogger, Kjt said on The Standard,

Among other things, POAL want the advantages of a casual on call work force without having to pay for it. Not many people would want to be on 8 hours call 365 days of the year with only a certain number of hours guaranteed and no pay for being available. In Tauranga and Nelson casuals are free to take other work without penalty.”

No wonder the workers are fighting back  by strike action. Their jobs are on the line.

Now, is that an unreasonable thing to fight for?

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Messages of support for striking workers can be left on these Facebook pages

Facebook: Ports of Auckland

Facebook: Maritime Union

Additional

Wikipedia: Christine Fletcher

Wikipedia: Solidarnosc

Wikipedia: Martial Law in Poland

Facebook: NZ Maritime Union

Port bosses sensitive to show of union power

Matt McCarten: ‘Greedy wharfies’ tale hides ambitions for port

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