Pushes from the bosses for greater ‘flexibility’ – the idea that workers should be available whenever their employer pleases, without the ability to plan for family and personal time – are coming in all sorts of industries in New Zealand. Maritime Union members in Lyttleton are resisting this at their work, and their cause should be supported by all workers.
Members of the Maritime Union are flexing their muscles at Lyttleton container port. They took strike action on Friday 27 and Saturday 28 January, and the union has given notices of further strikes from Friday 3 through to Sunday 5 February and on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 February. The International Socialist Organisation wishes the port workers well and that they win their demands in full.
The current collective agreement with Lyttleton Port Company was due to expire in March 2016. Negotiations over a new agreement have been ongoing since January last year. The union members first voted to strike in December but action has been put off until now. The issue is that LPC are insisting on greater ‘flexibility’ on rosters, but the port workers don’t want to be summoned at the drop of a hat or have their shift cancelled at short notice. One of the union placards on the picket line says ‘Families Matter’. Another says ‘Predictability’.
This the most important port dispute since the union’s confrontation with Ports of Auckland in 2012 when strikes forced the employer to back down over rosters and casualisation. Once again this is a defensive dispute to prevent a worsening of conditions. Fortunately, the Lyttleton port workers, although they are few in number, have enormous disruptive power. If Lyttleton wharfies successfully fend off this attack it will be a victory for all workers facing demands for flexibility.
Negotiations are continuing with mediation set for Wednesday 1 February.