by Daphna Whitmore
In a few days Auckland wharfies will go on strike again.
These guys are heroes. It’s thanks to them that some people in this country have half-decent working conditions. For decades wharfies have stood up and raised the bar and the rest of us have benefited.
They make our lives a heck of a lot better. Whether it’s tea breaks, safety shoes, holidays, overtime rates, sick leave, all have been fought for by staunch unionists.
We should remember that as a storm of moral outrage is whipped up by employers with their fictions about huge wharfies salaries.
Fact: the base rate of a wharfie is $27 an hour. It’s a living wage. The Ports of Auckland CEO’s salary is $750,000.
Garry Parsloe, National President of the Maritime Union, points out that the dispute is not about money: “our main request is that the jobs of our members are not contracted out as continually threatened by the port company as part of a strategy to undermine their employees job security.”
“This dispute is about retaining job security, and ensuring workers have a family life that is not further disrupted by unsocial shifts and job insecurity.”
Though their numbers have shrunk, displaced by giant machines, wharfies are still the backbone of the union movement in New Zealand. They give generously to others on strike and they understand old-fashioned solidarity.
Right now they are defending the 8-hour work day and secure jobs. They insist that wharf jobs be permanent, not casualised. They know that by standing together there is a semblance of democracy on the job. This is the employers’ living nightmare. “We need flexibility, and more profit,” they wail. The employer wants to tell them to work 5 hours one day and 12 another. The wharfies are determined to keep their 8-hour day.
I’ll leave the last words to Jock Barnes: “The workers’ fight is never lost; the only time they lose is when they bow their heads”.
See also: Ports dispute – an issue for all workers