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Chamber repeats call for port flexibility

05:04 Sat Mar 31 2012

Ports of Auckland's change of tack over its ongoing dispute with wharfies doesn't change the need for fundamental reforms - including a more flexible workforce, the Auckland Chamber of Commerce says.

Ports management on Friday abandoned their plan to lock workers out from April 6, saying it was on the basis that the parties return to the bargaining table.

The wharfies would be back at work as soon as possible, but no later than April 6, and until then, union staff will be paid.

The port previously agreed to abandon its plans to make union staff redundant and contract the jobs out until after a court hearing in May.

The move was welcomed by unions and opposition political parties, but Auckland Chamber of Commerce head Michael Barnett said it would not solve ongoing issues at the port.

"It doesn't change the need for the port to get its performance levels up to those of Tauranga," he said.

"[It] doesn't change the fact that work practices and restrictions that are out of touch with today's reality need to be reformed.

"There is no dispute from business that new thinking is needed and needs to translate into new, flexible work practices that are customer-focused and give Auckland a competitive edge."

Mr Barnett has previously criticised the Maritime Union over its ongoing strike action at the port.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown, whose council owns the port, urged the two sides to try and reach a solution.

"Aucklanders simply want their port open and fully operational again," Mr Brown said.

"Over the next few days I will be working with both sides to ensure our expectation that negotiations continue in good faith is honoured."

The two parties last week agreed to resume negotiations after a meeting with the Employment Court, but the port then issued the lockout notice and wouldn't allow the union members back to work, claiming there had been threats to non-union workers.