Thursday, January 12, 2012
Lifting workplace restrictions could make Auckland top Australasian port
Ports of Auckland says that lifting workplace restrictions at the port could make it New Zealand’s most productive port, especially given its scale, location and proximity to New Zealand’s largest market.
Commenting today on the release today of the Productivity Commission’s draft report on International Freight Transport Services, CEO Tony Gibson says that while an immediate focus is to close the productivity gap with Tauranga, Auckland has the right fundamentals to lead Australasian best practice for efficiency, productivity and customer service.
“Ports of Auckland is well-placed to compete successfully with the best ports in the region, but we need fundamental changes to current labour practices to achieve that,” he said.
He noted the Commission’s substantive point that work practices have not kept pace with the changing nature of international shipping, and customers’ requirements to have their cargo moved as quickly as possible when the ship is in port.
“Quite simply, labour supply and the shift system have to flex with the 24/7 shipping schedule, which is highly variable,” he said
The report notes that workplace productivity issues for many New Zealand ports stem from practices rooted in history, and the nature of waterfront work from eras long past.
Mr Gibson said that particular problems for Auckland that had been identified in the report were “work extending practices” which increase the cost of labour by paying for un-worked and unnecessary hours, and “work sharing arrangements”, where unions discourage high-performing specialists by requiring that workers take turns at tasks day-by-day, regardless of performance.
Mr Gibson said that Auckland’s primary focus for labour productivity improvement was labour utilisation (Auckland’s labour utilisation is approximately 65% compared to over 80% at Port of Tauranga).
“We have several strategies we’re working on to achieve this, including reducing paid downtime - that’s the 35% of hours that are paid but during which employees aren’t doing any work; more flexible rostering, and rostering based on skills and performance; increasing volumes (scale efficiencies); a culture of constant improvement including the development of new innovations such as twin-lifting of containers; and making more efficient use of the Port’s physical footprint.”
Mr Gibson said that since March he had been committed to working collaboratively with his staff and the Union to achieving the productivity improvements needed, but as the negotiations seemed to be no closer to resolution, the port was consulting with the union, staff, and prospective contractors on a contracting out proposal, in parallel with the ongoing collective bargaining process.
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