Irrationality dominates Port Board crusade

It’s not often one sees an employer acting with such commercial irrationality as the Ports of Auckland.
Most employers are conservative with the earnings they make from their workers and company managers strive to return the biggest dividends possible to their shareholders. They keep the business working at maximum production for the maximum time possible to achieve this while paying their workers the minimum they think they can get away with.
Nothing surprising there.
But the Auckland Port Board is different. These employers are acting with rare economic rashness in their crusade to smash the union and strip the workers of employment conditions hard won over several generations.
I can understand them wanting to crush the union. It’s in their DNA and it’s the stuff of wet dreams for most big employers.
But economic lunacy is rarely on display as it is here.
Not only has the board poured bucketloads of ratepayer money into this attack on its unionized workforce but it has slowed the port to a snail’s pace for several months with its refusal to settle a reasonable collective agreement with the union. What’s more it plans to continue in the same vein for at least the next six weeks by locking out the unionized workforce. Then even if the port company wins in the Employment Court and sacks all union members it would be many more weeks after that before it could employ and train contracted staff.
The dispute has already cost at least $21 million directly as well as adding significant additional costs to importers, manufacturers and consumers. The port board’s bizarre tactics will now certainly have a negative impact on New Zealand’s GDP. And this is if they win in court. If they lose and then continue their anti-union crusade then the economic disaster will spread to the whole economy. If won’t be just a shortage of marmite…
So why would an employer do this and how could they get away with it?
Because unlike the port workers these corporate ruffians have nothing to lose personally, have the government’s backing, the New Zealand Herald behind them and a shield provided by Auckland City Mayor Len Brown.
The irony is that this Rodney Hide appointed board would not embark such a Quixotic escapade if the Port were owned by private sector shareholders. In that case the directors would see their personal economic benefit in keeping the port working continuously at maximum capacity. They would aim to negotiate improved flexibility with the union but not at the price of jeopardizing operations for months on end. By maintaining operations they would stand to gain personal financial benefit through the likes of share options and various kinds of handouts that these members of the one percent see as their entitlement.
But at the port these board members don’t get the same benefits because there are no shares or share options and bonuses will be more carefully (we’d like to hope) monitored through public ownership.
With none of these greed-based incentives the Rodney Hide’s appointed board are left to indulge their union-crushing fantasies with massive public resources and no personal risk.
It is this scenario which explains their obdurate, irrational thuggery towards their unionized workers. The directors will not suffer if the port loses money. Why should they worry if the port delivers a much smaller return to Auckland City?
Meanwhile there will be plenty of back-slapping emails between company boardrooms urging these corporate hooligans on.
But all is not well for the board. They have run a 1980’s style anti-union campaign but this is 2012 and the public aren’t buying their line that the workers are lazy, overpaid, bullies.
So where is the accountability for this out-of-control board?
It should come from Mayor Len Brown but he is weak and vacillating with feet of clay. Easy meat for the corporate bullies. It must therefore come from the people of Auckland acting in large numbers in support of the workforce.
And once this battle is won then the board directors Richard Pearson, Graeme Scott, Andrew Bonner, Rob Campbell, Liz Coutts and Wayne Walden must be forced from their positions – along with CEO Tony Gibson.
One way or another they have to go.

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