Transport Minister Michael Wood speaks out on Auckland port safety issues

Ports of Auckland has not had a culture that values human life and wellbeing, says Transport Minister Michael Wood.

An independent review of health and safety at the port had laid out systemic failings that must be addressed urgently, and he expected all recommendations from the resulting report to be implemented, Wood said.

“There hasn’t been a culture in place that values human life and wellbeing and we’ve seen the tragic results of this with deaths and serious injuries at the port over the last few years.

“My expectation is all the recommendations…..will be implemented. In my view it would be inexcusable if they weren’t acted upon.”

Responding to Herald questions about his role, if any in the embattled port’s issues and whether he’d been approached by unions, Wood said he had been in contact with port employers and unions and “make no apologies for ensuring that workers’ voices are heard within my portfolio”.

“One of the recommendations of the independent review was that Ports of Auckland should prioritise building a trusting relationship with their own workforce and union as a critical part of improving the safety culture on site.

“That said in none of my engagement with section unions have I been asked to intercede in any employment matters, recognising that this is a role for the board of POAL [port company].

“I’m continuing to monitor these issues and I’ve spoken to Mayor [Phil] Goff about them – it’s encouraging that he and the port’s owner Auckland Council have a rock solid expectation the review’s recommendations are enacted.”

Wood said Government health and safety enforcer WorkSafe was “proactively engaging” with the port company and would work with it as reforms from the review were implemented.

Maritime Union of New Zealand national secretary Craig Harrison confirmed the union would not approach the Minister of Transport on this sort of issue.

The review was commissioned by Auckland Council, which owns the port, the country’s main imports gateway. During the growing health and safety concerns and issues with the port’s low productivity at a time of soaring imports demand and resulting upper North Island supply chain congestion, the council has maintained it cannot interfere in the port’s operations due to the Port Companies Act 1988.

Goff has told the Herald commissioning the independent review was an unprecedented step by the council.

Unions and port worker community leaders have called on port chief executive Tony Gibson to resign.

Meanwhile, the port on a social media post said the final stage of a prolonged programme to automate the container terminal was under way.The programme started in 2016. The last stage is civil works on the terminal pavement.

The port attributes the slow implementation to Covid-19 disruption, global shipping congestion and its own stevedore shortage, which has meant limited use of its container cranes and a continuing hybrid operating system.

Unloading delays at the port have angered importers, manufacturers and retailers and resulted in extra costs for them as shipping lines imposed special Auckland congestion charges on containers, and diverted container vessels to Port of Tauranga and Northport to avoid delays.

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