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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 1. 1965.


Don Hewitson, the writer of this article, is a third-year BA student. He has worked on the wharves for some seven months, engaged on jobs ranging from "deep-end" labouring to working in the Traffic Manager's Department. This article is the result of discussions with ships' officers, Wellington Harbour Board employees, "wharfies," and shipping-line representatives.

Increasing criticism of New Zealand port facilities, together with spiralling freight charges, makes it imperative that a reappraisal of the existing antiquated facilities and methods of bulk cargo handling be made.

At present it is apparent that freight charges will continue to rise, a factor which is of vital significance to New Zealand's economy. In order for the Shipping Lines to be able to maintain charges at a relatively constant level it is necessary to speed up the slow rate of turn round at New Zealand ports. This last year some of the more vocal Shipping Line spokesmen have complained that this rate is amongst the slowest in the world.

Of the New Zealand ports, Welington, has received the most criticism. This slow rate of turn round can be attributed to a number of factors—outdated facilities; poor unimaginative management; and strained relations between employers and employees.

The 1963 New Zealand Official Yearbook states "Figures for recent years show substantial increases in the numbers and net tonnages of overseas vessels recorded at ports. These figures . . . have doubled since 1952." The importance of the port of Wellington in relation to this large increase in trade is apparent in another statement "... in 1961 81.6 per cent of overseas vessels (on a tonnage basis) arriving in New Zealand made Auckland or Wellington their first port of entry, and 60 per cent used one of these two ports as the final departure point."

The significant question to be asked is "Has there been a corresponding increase in available facilities, and a progressive streamlining of the port, in order to capitalize efficiently on the doubling of trade?" A close examination shows that this is definitely not the case.

Admittedly there have been certain innovations, such as fork lifts, a point which is repeatedly used as a basis for praise of the progressive outlook of the Harbour Board (usually made by the members themselves). The introduction of fork lifts is concomitant with the increasing amount of palletized cargo, it is a natural process. However, where the field of endeavour has remained with the Harbour Board there has been little progress. In Wellington the methods of loading such produce as frozen meats, meat products, cheese and butter (aproximately 43 per cent of total outward cargo), have not changed radically from the slow labour-intensive methods of the 1920's.