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THE International Transport Workers’ Federation has welcomed Ports of Auckland’s decision to halt its overdue and over-budget automation project at the Fergusson Container Terminal.

ITF president and chair of the ITF Dockers’ Section Paddy Crumlin said: “I want to reiterate the words of Ports of Auckland CEO Roger Gray: ‘This is a positive decision, which will come as a relief to many at Ports of Auckland and in the wider supply chain’.

“The brutal reality here for Ports of Auckland, and its sole shareholder and owner, Auckland Council, is that this decision and the write-off of NZ$65 million, would never have happened if management valued the knowledge and expertise that its workforce brings to decisions about lifting port capacity, productivity and profitability.”

Mr Crumlin said the major lesson in the cancellation is that management must listen to workers.

“When the people who do the heavy lifting at a place like the Ports of Auckland say ‘this project is not fit for purpose’, ‘the technology is not ready’, and they even tell you ‘the technology is dangerous, we are worried for our lives’, you have got to listen to your workers,” Crumlin said.

“Coming out of this I would expect Auckland Council to show they have learned their lesson in this regard, and therefore their first act should be to put a worker on the Ports of Auckland Board.”

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POAL commenced its project to automate the container terminal in 2016. At the time, the project was to be complete by 2019 or early 2020. Parts of the project have been delivered. However, the port’s board commissioned two independent assessments, both advised that significant more investment would be needed.

According to the ITF, port management said 50-70 workers would be replaced with automated carriers in the project’s first phase. However, two incidents with automated straddle carriers pointed to problems with the software that controlled the machines.

Maritime Union of New Zealand national secretary Craig Harrison said MUNZ had warned the port that there wouldn’t be higher productivity through automation, and that there would be higher costs for importers and exporters.

“Management ignored these facts. It was clear to us at the time that their agenda was not to improve productivity, but to remove organised labour from the waterfront,” Mr Harrison said.

“It took the port seven years to realise this project was never fit for purpose. The sad thing is that ratepayers of Auckland wouldn’t have lost tens of millions of dollars if they’d listened to us, and the ITF. Our community could have built a new library with that money, a park for the kids, or fixed the trains.”

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