I am disappointed but not surprised at the strike action bringing Port Nelson to a halt. It is payback time for the unions following the change of government and they are now flexing their industrial muscle.
It is the first strike by Port Nelson staff in 30 years. Three container ships were disrupted at the weekend and the union has given notice of a further strike for a week starting this Friday that will disrupt another dozen ship visits.
The strike action is by just eight members of the Merchant Service Guild who are the masters and engineers on the port tugs out of 300 staff at the port. These tug operators are not low paid workers and earn over $100,000 a year. They do need to be on call 24/7 during their duty weeks but work about 25 hours a week and get 17 weeks off a year. Their union’s demands are driven by greed not need. Giving into the unions high demands will push up costs for exporters and undermines our competitiveness.
Nelson orchardists are livid and feel held to ransom. They must get their apple and kiwifruit exports across the wharf this month to get to markets like Europe on time. Millions of dollars of fruit are a risk.
This strike will hurt many other industries like forestry, fishing, wine and diary. It also effects other workers like port staff and truck drivers who will have their work and pay disrupted. Every ratepayer in Nelson and Tasman loses because we are owners of the port through our Councils, and will be affected by lower dividends.
The greatest damage from the strikes is to business confidence. We have had more strikes nationally in the last nine months in sectors like buses, trains and other ports than in the last nine years. The fear is a return to the 1970s and 1980s when we lost over a million productive working days a year to industrial disruption.
I want higher wages and families benefitting from the strong economy. The average annual wage increased from $42,000 to $52,000 a year over the last nine years under National. My problem with strike driven wage increases is that it favours those who can cause the greatest disruption rather than those who have the greatest skills or works the hardest. The tug boat operators will do well but the scientist on valuable long term research doesn’t have the same leverage.
The new Coalition Government is giving unions more power but it will make Nelson poorer. Business confidence is plummeting. Nelson has gone from the top ranked regional economy out of 16 a year ago to now number 12. We need this dispute resolved. Port Nelson is the heart of our successful exporting economy.