[Documents menu]Labor history of Aotearoa - New Zealand
Date: Sat, 20 Dec 1997 19:10:56 +0000
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: LabourNet <chrisbailey@GN.APC.ORG>
Subject: New Zealand Seafarers faces Port Authorities lawsuit

New Zealand Seafarers Job Fight Faces Port Authorities Lawsuit

LabourNet interview by Greg Dropkin
20 December 1997

Four major port authorities in New Zealand have combined forces to bring a lawsuit against the New Zealand Seafarers Union claiming loss of revenue due to actions taken by their members in defense of jobs.

The authorities of Auckland, Lyttleton, Tangaroa, and Wellington, claim that by picketting and delaying vessels, seafarers have stopped port employees (wharfies) from gaining access to their rightful workplace. The authorities are public bodies funded by rates levied on the local community, which includes seafarers, and their legal action serves the interests of major shipping lines seeking to undercut and replace the Seafarers Union.

The actions concerned ships carrying trans-Tasman cargo, using Flag of Convenience vessels to replace Australian and New Zealand crewed boats. The replacement ships normally carry Filipino crews.

Mike Williams of the New Zealand Seafarers Union commented: "Some of the crews are organised through unions based in the Philippines and we support the ITF campaign for minimum standards agreements to cover these vessels. We believe we should have a level playing field, and we are actually trying to help the Filipino crews to achieve higher wages. We have intervened in disputes on their vessels through the ITF.

"During the recent ITF Week of Action (19-26 November), inspections revealed details of health and safety, wages, and welfare on Flag of Convenience vessels and our union was able to help compel shipowners to sign ITF agreements. But even on the ITF minimum wages, seafarer's pay would still fall far below New Zealand or Australian standards."

In fact freight rates are so low that even if crew labour costs are discounted, Australian and New Zealand ships would be unable to compete due to tax concessions on the FoC vessels.

"We were in conflict with the American Star, owned by the Blue Star Line (a UK company chaired by Lord Vestey) flying a Panamanian flag. The Panamanian authority has reduced safety and environmental standards and the flag allows shipowners to evade tax which would be levied if it were UK registered. The shippers long term strategy is to achieve a monopoly excluding any Australian or New Zealand involvement, after which their freight rates will undoubtedly rise."

"If we don't defend our jobs, we will actually be wiped out. We feel we have the democratic right to peaceful protest to defend our jobs and we will continue to uphold this right."

The court hearings are due early next year.

LabourNet interview by Greg Dropkin

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