Labour Party leader David Shearer has finally been drawn into
the Ports of Auckland dispute which involves the Maritime
Union of New Zealand, contributors to the party coffers.
So far, Mr Shearer had been content with letting labour
relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton put out press releases on
Ms Fenton and Auckland-based list MP Jacinda Ardern have been
on the picket line, Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford has attacked
Auckland Mayor Len Brown on the Red Alert blog and Dunedin
South MP Clare Curran announced her support for the union on
The pressure has come on Labour, founded from the trade union
movement, after ports management decided to make nearly 300
workers - union members - redundant and contract out the
stevedoring on its two container wharves.
Mr Shearer's contribution to the debate was to say he was
"very disappointed" by the decision and went on say it would
cost millions of dollars in redundancy payments and will have
a huge effect on the workers and their families.
Political sources told the Otago Daily Times that Ms
Fenton was being given a clear direction on what she could
say regarding the ports dispute.
Labour's big concern is about the wider casualisation of
labour that is being also considered at the Talleys-owned
Affco meat plants. The Oceania rest-home dispute is another
area of concern for Labour.
Mr Shearer is likely to soon be leading a campaign for his
party on "Casualisation - how can you feed your family for a
The Maritime Union of New Zealand and the Meat Workers Union
were regarded as strong enough, with enough resources, to
take on the campaign of casualisation being put in place by
major employers, sources said.
Instead, Labour will focus on winning back the support of
people who had worked in the past for the organisations like
the former Post Office, or latterly for Telecom, who were now
sole contractors - the small business drivers for the
Unions still represent a substantial number of Labour Party
members but the party is seeking to widen its appeal to small
business owners who might have been union members in the past
but were now small business people doing their own bookwork.
The Greens have been backing the unions consistently in an
overt attempt to take votes from Labour. Co-leader Russel
Norman said the ports action set a terrible precedent for all
workers in New Zealand and like Mr Twyford, he had a swipe at
Auckland Mayor Mr Brown.
"The Mayor of Auckland Len Brown and the Auckland council
have sat on their hands over this dispute for too long. It's
time for Mayor Brown to take a stand in support of the
workers that voted for him," Dr Norman said.
The difficulty for Mr Brown is that he wants a greater
financial return from the port, which is owned by the
council, to fund his inner city transport dreams. The union
contributed to his mayoralty campaign but on current
thinking, he might face a candidate from the Left at the next
election when he was that candidate last time.
Tamaki Makaurau MP and Maori Party Co-leader Dr Pita Sharples
is also "extremely concerned" at developments in the Auckland
"The escalation of this dispute is not good for anyone.
Auckland must have a businesslike port to support its
economy, but we cannot sacrifice the wellbeing of families to
achieve that. A new attitude is needed," he said.
"We do not want workers and management fighting each other
over a shrinking pie. We need the parties to pull together to
compete more effectively for our city," Dr Sharples said.
With Prime Minister John Key effectively saying the
Government will take a hands-off approach to industrial
disputes, Mr Shearer has to front up to voters or lose
another round to the Greens and others.
He needs to also abandon Mr Brown, if that is what it takes,
to keep the faith with Auckland voters.