Earlier this month there was a very militant 48-hour strike of the New Zealand dockworkers over pay and conditions. As usual, the bosses, while getting fat salaries themselves, claim the dockworkers are already well paid!

250 workers belonging to the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) at the Ports of Auckland container terminals struck for 48 hours over better pay and conditions at the beginning of October. At present the union is in further talks with the employers to secure improved pay and conditions.

At the heart of the dispute is the union's claim for a 5% pay rise, including full back pay from 30 November 2006 when the last collective agreement ended and a "no cost" claim that brings in a small group of Planner/Supervisor and Cargo officers into the collective agreement.

The employers' tactics have been to say that the MUNZ is being unreasonable and the 3.25% should be accepted as they are well paid workers. This doesn't bear any serious scrutiny. A permanent stevedore working 40 hours a week earns NZ$52,000 (£19,000 or €27,000) in Auckland. Anything above this is overtime, which includes 16-hour shifts worked round the clock, 364 days of the year in all weathers and under heavy time constraint. MUNZ managed to negotiate a day of for Christmas two years ago, but the port company is trying to make it a working day again. Obviously the company is keen to promote "work life balance"!

"Ports of Auckland" was formed in 1988 and is 100% owned by Auckland Regional Holdings, a statutory investment entity fully accountable to Auckland Regional Council (ARC). In effect it is in public ownership running on private commercial lines to return a dividend to ARC, hence the ratepayer in much the same way that government owned State Owned Enterprises are run.

It is a highly profitable company, operating the Port of Auckland, which is New Zealand's largest international container port and a major gateway for trade. It handles 4 million tonnes of breakbulk cargo a year and over 670,000 TEU's (twenty foot equivalent container unit) a year. This amounts to 50% of the North Island's container trade and 38% of New Zealand's total container trade.

If anything, with increasing port volumes (up 13%) and demands for better productivity, the company is squeezing every bit of profit out of the sweated labour of the workers and they have clearly had enough. Picketing has been successful with round the clock pickets mounted. Pickets of 50 maritime workers at the Axis Furgusson terminal gate and 40 at the Axis Bledisloe terminal were common. Solidarity was shown by the National Distribution Union who joined the picket lines, in response to the MUNZ support for the Progressive supermarket workers' dispute last year as well as offers of support from other unions and the International Transport Workers' Federation.

Denis Carlisle, President of the MUNZ Auckland Waterfront Branch Local 13 made the following comments on company propaganda about workers having it too good: "Of course, the people saying this get paid much more than workers here or anywhere. Let's ask for an individual breakdown of how much senior management are being paid at the Ports of Auckland for a comparison." Denis said the attitude seems to be that CEO's and corporate managers command vast inflated salaries that bear no relation to their performance, while workers are not entitled to a decent wage.

Denis Carlisle further added, "everyone seems to be concerned that New Zealand is a low wage economy, so we're doing our bit to change that... workers are getting fed up with being thrown crumbs from employers." Finally Denis Carlisle said, "Our labour is the commodity we sell and we will offer the labour at the value that we think it is worth."

MUNZ has plans for further strikes which may include a 4-day strike if negotiations with the employers breakdown and the situation is ongoing at the time of writing.

Socialist Appeal NZ fully supports the MUNZ in its actions to secure a 5% pay deal with no strings attached.