The Ports of Auckland industrial relations dispute highlights the need for New Zealand companies to be able to compete with their international peers, or face losing out to them, Prime Minister John Key says.
Ports of Auckland, which is ultimately owned by the Auckland City Council, sacked 292 striking workers last week and introduced plans to outsource stevedoring work following months of industrial action by workers opposing further casualisation of working conditions at the port.
Prime Minister John Key has kept his distance from the dispute, saying it was a matter between Ports of Auckland and the Maritime Union representing the striking workers.
But on TVOne's Breakfast programme this morning, Key said the ultimate issue of the dispute was to do with the flexibility of the port's workforce, and that there needed to be a range of ways to ensure New Zealand companies were internationally competitive.
“If you think about the ports, I think the issue is that these are workers that have historically been paid pretty well down on the waterfront. I think the average income’s been about NZ$90,000, so it hasn’t been a badly-paid place," Key said on Breakfast.
"But the problem is flexibility - in terms of when ships arrive, when staff get called out, how they can cope with that," Key said.
"If we’re not competitive – forget about the ports – right across the economy, ultimately we can’t compete. And then what you end up seeing is subsidisation, or you basically end up seeing international companies competing and doing better here,” he said.
The issue of casualisation - where workers were required to be more flexible in terms of what hours they worked and when they could be called in to work - was a matter for the employer, not the government.
“We’re saying that’s part of the law and has been for a long period of time. What we are keen to see is that New Zealand companies do well and compete. Ultimately if they can’t compete then you will see a situation where substitution takes place and you see goods coming from overseas," Key said.