17 Nov 2008

Importers fear port strike ahead of Christmas

10:48 am on 17 November 2008

Importers say a strike at the Ports of Auckland could be disastrous in the lead-up to Christmas.

The Maritime Union issued a notice to Ports of Auckland that about 500 workers planned to go out for 24 hours at the end of November.

However, Ports of Auckland said on Friday afternoon the union withdrew the strike notice, saying it contained a typographical error and it would issue a further notice on Monday.

Ports of Auckland is meeting with the Maritime Union on Monday to try to avert strike action.

The prospect of a strike is worrying importers and exporters. Secretary of the Importers Institute, Daniel Silva, says Christmas is the worst possible time for disruption.

Mr Silva says importers are already looking at a very bleak Christmas, with the global financial crisis taking its toll on retailers. He hopes the union and Ports of Auckland can resolve their differences.

Exporters say the threatened strike could damage their reputation overseas.

Manufacturers and Exporters Association chief executive John Walley says the global economic crisis means it is crucial that New Zealand goods arrive on time.

Mr Walley says if New Zealand exporters cannot supply goods on time, there will be other international suppliers who can.

Ports of Auckland's managing director Jens Madsen says the union's behaviour is verging on shambolic. He says the ports company is focused on minimising any disruption to customers.

Maritime Union spokesperson Dennis Carlisle says negotiations on a collective agreement have broken down after about two years of discussions, adding that the union does not take take strike action lightly.

Cargo ships may stay at cruise ship terminal

Meanwhile, Auckland Regional Council is supporting a feasibility study into the possible mixed use of Queens Wharf.

It is possible cargo ships will continue to use part of central Auckland's waterfront that is earmarked for a showcase cruise ship terminal.

Mr Madsen says it will not be easy for fruit and car importers who use the wharf to move.

However, he says it would take a long time to transform the wharf into a passenger terminal and that would give Ports of Auckland the opportunity to rehouse them if necessary.

He welcomes the decision to look at whether the cargo business could co-exist with the cruise liner terminal, but says Ports of Auckland has assured its customers it will work to protect their interests.

Mr Madsen says an international-standard cruise ship terminal would be an asset for Auckland and New Zealand.