Thanks to the Wharfies

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.

Waterside leaders, like the legendary Jock Barnes, were always very conscious that they weren’t acting simply for the wharfies but for the class. (Read my interview with him here and here).

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




  1. Great article it makes me proud to be a union official for the Maritime Union knowing we have support like this to count on

  2. No one really knows why they are striking, they say its not for money, but for jobs, Well at the moment, they are losing their jobs. As all the business is diverted to other ports. Plain and simple. If you apply for a job, and you are happy with the pay and conditions, then accept the job and be happy. If one day you wake up, and don’t like your job anymore, then just quit, and go get another job. Someone else will soon be happy to take the one you didn’t like anymore.
    No one says you have to stay at any job you don’t like.
    As all the other ports pick up the work that the auckland wharfies don’t want, then you will find that a lot of auckland wharfies will have to be laid off.
    Well done unions, I’m sure tauranga and napier will be happy with the extra work. And I hope the auckland guys have paid off their mortgages, Cause a lot of them won’t have jobs on the wharf soon. But of coarse that won’t worry them, as they didn’t like their job anyway, or they wouldn’t have been striking.

    • The good fight has to be done by someone, I’m sure The rich would love get richer and if they could pay these guys a bowl or rice a day and container to sleep in they would. What’s wrong with wanting better conditions etc. Some of these guys have been in this industry all there lives (hard to leave now) and are now working for less than they were getting decades ago due to inflation and not keeping up with it , Same can be said for most other industries out there. Why should we? why should you? The rich love to get richer that’s why. Is that you?
      As for shipping lines going to other ports because of this action….what a load of rubbish! they’ve been doing this for ever, playing our people off against each other. Make no mistake they are the rich getting richer, just look at some of there crew’s conditions.
      This is not just POA’s problem, its bigger than all of us. This action and other actions like this are all over the news all over the world.
      What we need now people is solidarity and a fair peace of the pie, conditions and all.
      Go Auckland!

    • get your facts right before you comment. auckland port is trying to totally change working hours it is not about money. ports of auckland are feeding false info to the media so people like you who believe everything they read will think the port co are the nice guys and the workers are the bad guys

    • They’re not striking cause they don’t like their jobs, you should get more informed before making such shit comments.

    • Interviewed after news of the Auckland’s loss of Fonterra export business, Mayor Len Brown issued an ultimatum to the Maritime union, saying there must be more flexibility in work practices to make the port more productive and profitable for the council.

      Mr Brown – a member of the Labour Party who received a $2000 donation from the Maritime Union towards his 2010 election campaign – yesterday said the board and management of the 100 per cent council-owned port company had his full confidence but he refused to express confidence in the union.

  3. This dispute is rapidly coming to a head. It was reported this evening that Ports of Auckland is set to proceed with a proposal to contract out its labour force.

    A counter offer tabled on January 6 by MUNZ was rejected by Ports of Auckland, with chief executive Tony Gibson claiming that the union’s proposal “failed to deliver the rapid improvements needed in work practices and productivity”.

    Gibson said he expected the majority of affected employees to continue working at the port though most likely employed by a contractor if the proposed changes go ahead.

    With the port having recently lost Maersk shipping and Fonterra Cooperative Group to Port of Tauranga, Gibson says the situation has changed dramatically and Auckland is making plans for redundancies.

    The Port of Tauranga features company unions, inferior wages and conditions and an ugly industrial accident record. It is the future face of Auckland docks if the wharfies lose this battle.

    The Ports dispute is rapidly becoming a stark challenge to the rest of the working class.

    Will what remains of the union movement realize their class duty and provide the wharfies the active support they deserve and need?

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