Ports of Auckland workers cast vote of no confidence in senior management, company's board

Ports of Auckland.
Ports of Auckland. Photo credit: File

By Nick Truebridge for RNZ

Disgruntled Ports of Auckland workers have walked off the job to cast a vote of no confidence in senior management and the company's board. 

Today's meeting puts more pressure on chief executive Tony Gibson, who has to date ignored calls to walk from the top job following three deaths at the port and the subsequent release of a scathing health and safety review. 

Dozens of workers packed into today's Maritime Union meeting at Auckland's Okahu Bay Bowling Club. Board members, including chair Bill Osborne, were invited too but did not show up. 

The workers, many of whom were friends of deceased workers Laboom Dyer and Pala'amo Kalati, congregated behind closed doors for several hours. 

Inside, there was a unanimous vote of no confidence in the port's executive management and board of directors. 

Maritime Union Auckland branch secretary Russell Mayn told Checkpoint that Ports board members were notified of the meeting and invited to attend. 

"It's now three weeks [since the review's release], I thought that perhaps we may have been contacted," he said. 

"There is an underlying fear that there's just some time being played for at senior management level and then this will all go away, and then in six months' time we'll get back to normal. 

"But I can assure you that's not going to happen." 

Mayn said the Maritime Union wanted a seat at the table in the form of representation on the port's health and safety committees. 

"Leaving it to the management and having a top-down health and safety culture doesn't work - it simply doesn't work, and it produces terrible results," he said. 

Checkpoint approached more than a dozen port workers following the stop-work meeting, but they did not want to talk, fearing repercussions.

Mayn was not surprised. He said most workers were simply too scared to speak up because they had too much to lose. 

"The ramifications for it are financial ramifications, because if you're removed as a lash leading hand, or you're removed as a crane driver, you're talking a difference of probably $8 or $9 an hour," he said. 

"Over a week, over a year, it's a lot of money. 

Maritime Union national secretary Craig Harrison said the next step was to go back to port leadership requesting another meeting over the health and safety review. 

"We're willing to engage and at this stage we've had little engagement from senior management in how to make some headway on major health and safety issues," he said. 

Issues at the port extended beyond chief executive Tony Gibson's lack of oversight, Harrison said. 

"We see it as a team effort, you know, when Tony said in the media he had little idea of what was going on, you have to question that," he said. 

"But then are his senior managers reporting accurately what's actually happening in the workplace? So that raises further concern." 

Ports of Auckland was approached for a response to the vote of no confidence in port management and the board. 

Checkpoint wanted to know if the port had met with union officials, representatives and members after the health and safety review identified systemic safety failings and suspected under-reporting of accidents. 

Port Communications manager Matt Ball said the port would not be making any comment.