By Paul McBeth
Dec. 13 (BusinessDesk) - An Employment Relations Authority decision has whacked Ports of Auckland with a $40,000 fine for employing strike-breakers when its unionised workforce was picketing earlier this year.
ERA member Anna Fitzgibbon yesterday found the port took a calculated risk in using an external contractor under the guise of a training programme while Maritime Union staff were on strike in February this year.
The engineer and an apprentice at the port worked on straddle carriers, cranes, hoists and other equipment used in shifting cargo which normally would have been done by the union workers.
"It is my view that POAL was aware of s.97 (in the Employment Relations Act relating to strike-breaking provisions) but in order to keep the port operating during the strike made calculated decisions to breach the provision," Fitzgibbon said in her Dec. 12 determination.
The breach was not a flagrant one where an entire new workforce was hired, but was "deliberate and serious," she said. The port faced penalties of up to $20,000 for each of the four breaches and was ordered to pay $10,000 per breach. The Crown will receive $30,000 and the union $10,000.
Fitzgibbon said it was "not plausible" the POAL engineering manager Michael Osborne flew in Noell Mobile Systems engineer Andre Labus from Europe at a cost of about $2,000 a day to train one apprentice when the arrangements were finalised after the strike notice was received.
Osborne's decision was discussed with senior management at the port and decided it was a 'grey' area that might not contravene employment law.
"Mr Osborne's decision to retain Mr Labus 'for training' was to enable essential work at the port to continue during the course of the strike," Fitzgibbon said. "Mr Osborne says he took the risk knowing that this action would undermine the strike because POAL was a service business."
The decision is the latest in a long-running dispute between port management and the union, which has seen strikes, lock-outs, and a board member's resignation. Last month Auckland Mayor Len Brown pleaded with the parties to set aside their differences and accept recommendations from an external facilitator.
The port said in a statement that it is considering its response to the determination and was disappointment because it was "simply focussed on keeping the port running during the strikes, so as to minimise the impact on the people, businesses and many other employees who rely on us."
MUNZ president Garry Parsloe said the decision left port management in an untenable position.
"Heads must roll – deliberate illegal actions by management compel a firm response from the board and from the council," Parsloe said in a statement.