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

Waterfront Management Or Mismanagement?

page 12

Waterfront Management Or Mismanagement?

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 This slow rate of turn round can be attributed to a number of factors—outdated facilities; poor unimaginative management; and strained relations between employers and employees.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.


At present one phase of the Wellington Harbour Board's streamlining plan is being put into operation. The loading berth Glasgow Wharf is about to undergo a £500,000 reconstruction job. However the actual methods of loading carcasses and dairy products will undergo little change. In the past decade the Bluff Harbour Board has developed an automated all-weather loading berth, whereas Wellington has simply the forty-year-old, 2½-ton capacity, hydraulic cranes on Glasgow Wharf with new 3-ton capacity, electric cranes. There is one ray of hope—a private transport firm is experimenting with a new type of container for frozen products which will eradicate the necessity to shunt railway waggons to the wharf, unload them and load slings. If this scheme is successful the containers will simply be carried to ship-side by truck, lifted by the cranes, and unloaded down the hatches.

The general apathy in Wellington is not quite as apparent in some of the other ports. The increasing interest shown by the Timaru and Lyttelton Harbour Boards in the all-weather loading facilities at Bluff is a healthy sign. Experimentation with package loading was begun at Bluff as early as 1953. In 1963 five loaders were installed at a cost of more than £600.000. When in operation the railway wagons are shunted into the sheds, the packages are loaded on to a conveyor belt which takes them to the ship's hold. The loaders are designed to operate in winds of at least 45 mph and when stowed are stable up to 105 mph.

It is estimated that when initial difficulties are overcome (such as shunting delays through wet weather), vessels will be able to turn round in half the present time, twice the tonnage will be handled for the same existing stevedoring costs, and the cost of loading should fall to approximately half the previous figure. The resultant saving should more than cover the charge to the Shipping Companies for use of the loaders, while the saving in loading days will greatly enhance the profit-earning capacity of the vessel.

The lack of modern facilities in Wellington is closely related to the problem of management. An example of the mismanagement of the Wellington streamlining scheme is the inadequacy of the new overseas passenger terminal. For some unknown reason the Harbour Board decided that the width of the terminal would be slightly less than some of the cargo sheds that they had been using before. This is difficult to understand as one of the more practical reasons for constructing the terminal was because many of the sheds could not adequately accommodate the large amount of passengers and baggage from the larger ships, therefore necessitating use of the already overcrowded discharging berths.


At the time of writing the terminal has been in use only two months and already it has been discovered that it cannot cope with its first large ship, the 28,164 tons Orcades.

At the Board meeting on the 28th January. 1965, Mr. G. A. Brown stated "... nobody told the board that there were limitations to the terminal and that's the thing I am disappointed in." He seems to overlook the fact that the Board authorized the plans and therefore this statement can be taken as an admission that the plans were studied and passed by people without sufficient knowledge of the project. These are the same people who are planning the port streamlining scheme!

The third reason for Wellington's slow rate of turn-round, the strained relations between employer and employee, can mostly be attributed to the shortage of labour. In 1962 the total bureau register strength (the number of waterfront workers) was set at a limit of 7124 workers for all ports. The actual strength was 6778.


Of this deficit of 346 workers for all New Zealand. 86 per cent of it occurred in Wellington where the actual strength was nearly 300 short of the port's quota of 1800. It is apparent that unless this deficiency of labour is greatly reduced (very much an improbability because of the shortage of suitable housing in Wellington), the Union will continue to "hold a pistol" at the heads of the Port Employers' Association and the Harbour Board.

In other New Zealand ports the employers are able to exercise a much firmer control and meet the Union half-way with regard to disputes and new proposals.

Wellington is merely one of the eight major ports in New Zealand which have similarly slow rates of turn round (with the possible exception of Bluff). The importance of this in world trade is emphasized by the formation of two committees — "The Producer Boards' Shipping Utilization Committee" in New Zealand; and "The New Zealand Trade Streamlining Committee" in London. The task of these was to 'examine all factors likely to effect economies in the turn round of shipping' with attention to such questions as palletization; mechanical loading and discharge; greater use of cartons and standardization of sizes; road, rail, and water transport facilities to and from docks.

In the final report submitted (published February 1964) there were a number of pertinent recommendations resulting from comparison of New Zealand facilities, management systems and labour organization, with those existing in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Some of the most significant recommendations are—(1) Greater efforts should be made by the freezing companies to ship the new killings early in the season so that the ships can return to New Zealand in time to lift cargoes in the peak season.

(2) The majority of ships should be programmed to load at no more than two ports in New Zealand and to discharge at no more than two ports in the United Kingdom and Western Europe.

(3) Representations should be made to the New Zealand Government, through the Minister of Labour, to initiate negotiations on all changes regarding the employment of labour on the waterfront, in particular those concerned with hours of work and shift work; holiday work; avoidable delays and non-productive time; incentives; supervision; and mechanisation.

(4) Development in loading and discharging New Zealand produce at the principals should be concentrated, in the forseeable future, on the use of conveyor plant.

The first two, if adopted, should help to relieve the congestion in the ports. With the freezing companies and the Dairy Board cooperating in shipping new produce early in the season, and more strict programming of the ports of call of ships, much of the time spent 'lying idle' could be eliminated.

The proposals relating to shift work, based on Australian experience, are basically sound. At present the Wellington watersiders average about 48 hours' work per week, many of them are working 56 hours. It is only understandable that their psychological attitude towards work should be detrimental to the economies in turn-round.


In Australia the working day is divided into—the day shift (8am to 5pm); and the twilight shift (5 pm to 11pm). A night shift from midnight to 7am is also worked if required by the ship and if labour is available. This system is acceptable to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority; the gangs work the twilight shift in turn, usually every third week only. With the introduction of shift work there was legislation, the Stevedoring Industry Act, which ensures that supervision is effective, and that employers enforce discipline by taking the measures available to them (something often ignored in New Zealand where the Shipping Companies are unwilling to enforce disciplinary measures because of the risk of subsequent disputes). The result of the changes to shift work and more strict supervision of labour has been a major decrease in the amount of nonproductive time.

As the products handled in Australian ports and the industries served by them have much in common with those in New Zealand, this system could well be adapted, having the merit of being a workable and well-tried system. The Australian experience should provide useful indications of how the problems associated with the introduction of a shift system might be overcome.

Since the publication of the streamlining report there have been a number of talks between the Minister of Labour and the unions concerned (Harbour Board Employees', Tally Clerks', Railway Workers', Freezing Workers', Waterfront Workers'). Unfortunately there has been little evidence of any acceptance of the recommendations.


The recently established "Port Operations Committees", comprising representatives of all interests concerned with port operations and administration, will offer future opportunities for the unions and their members to consider the means of overcoming any expected congestion, or delay of cargoes, in the ports.

Another factor which augers well for a more positive approach towards streamlining is the recent appointment of the president of the Federation of Labour, Mr. T. E. Skinner, to the "Exports and Shipping Council" which has been established to implement the streamlining committee's recommendations.

Although the present outlook is rather gloomy there is every reason to believe that the difficult task of streamlining the New Zealand ports can be carried out. At the moment there is a dire need for improved port facilities, stricter supervision of labour, and progressive management. In Wellington, unless some satisfactory position is reached regarding the availability of labour, there is a strong possibility that it will be necessary to divert some ships and cargoes to other ports. There is a need for improvement in relations between the Harbour Board, Port Employers' Association, and the Union—at the moment any proposals to introduce automation which will reduce the size of gangs is counteracted by the union, even if it has been previously complaining about the lack of labour.

Much of the success of the streamlining will depend on the willingness of the employers to raise the basic wage rate for the 40-hour week. This will have to be carried out conjointly with introduction of shift work and the tightening of labour control.

If the waterfront, of major importance in New Zealand's economy, is going to operate efficiently it must have both good management and efficient staff. The only way this staff will be obtained is by increasing the wages, shortening the hours, and exercising a more stringent control over the employees.

Wellington — Rain Stops Play

Wellington — Rain Stops Play