As of yesterday, Ports of Auckland management and Maritime Union officials were still negotiating in a bid to head off the sixth strike at the transport hub over the Christmas season.
The latest strike, protesting redundancies and use of outside contractors, is set to start at 7am on January 31.
These strikes, which have come at the busiest time of the year for New Zealand’s food and grocery sector, have adversely affected many makers, importers, and exporters of food products, Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (NZFGC) told FoodNavigator-Asia.
The biggest blow came earlier this month when dairy co-operative Fonterra shifted export shipments from Auckland to the ports of Tauranga and Napier after strikes during December disrupted its Christmas shipments.
Rich said members of the NZFGC, which include almost all of New Zealand's major food importers and exporters, have been frustrated with the shenanigans at Ports of Auckland for some years.
She pointed out that Auckland is New Zealand's biggest market for food and grocery products and is a major hub for both international and domestic freight, including food, beverage and grocery products.
“The port serves a major food production hub and is the closest port to New Zealand's largest consumer market of Auckland. Some of our members have recently shifted their business to the port of Tauranga,” she said.
Rich pointed out that more food industry players could make the same move to Tauranga, which some have been found to be more efficient even when additional road transport or other costs are factored in.
According to Rich, inefficiencies at Ports of Auckland have contributed to higher imported prices in some circumstances, and higher costs for some exporters.
“For some members shifting ports is the solution. We’ve had three large members decide to do this already, Fonterra being the main one. Others will consider other options if port services continue to be subject to regular stoppages,” she said.
Rich remained hopeful, revealing that the industry is quietly confident that the Port will resolve these issues in the medium term, though the process is likely to remain acrimonious.
“The current industrial arrangements at Ports of Auckland are from last century. The Port has to become more efficient. This continues to affect our members and it's very frustrating for all involved,” she added.