Registering interest: Work, employment and industrial relations on the waterfront in New Zealand 1953-1993
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This thesis examines patterns of power relations between waterfront workers and waterfront employers during the years 1953 to 1993. It argues that the key actors on each side, and the relationships between them, were constituted by the Waterfront Industry Act 1953 which established a 'bureau system' of labour administration. This legislative intervention created an occupational registration scheme which was complemented by the registration, as legal entities, of the main organized interests within the labour market - the unions and the employers' organization. The relationships between these actors are explored at three separate (although overlapping) levels: employment relations, industrial relations and work relations. Using these categories, an analysis of two distinct periods is presented: the break-bulk era (1953-1971) and the container era (1972-1986). The thesis concludes with a discussion of the period after deregulation (1987-1993). The thesis demonstrates that unions were empowered by the bureau system of labour administration by being granted formal 'joint control' of certain crucial aspects of the labour supply. The resulting union strength was constituted in and through a blend of local and national bargaining together with the judicious use of strike action. At the level of work relations, the bureau system exacerbated the inherent problems of control associated with the performance of work by gangs. This produced a particular pattern of work relations which centred on the wage-effort bargain. In the break-bulk era, this pattern led to a tension between the organization of the labour market and the wage-form. Despite this tension, watersiders had considerable control of work practices. This control was carried over to the period after containerization. In the relationship between firms and the labour market, the study reveals that firm size was as much a function of the type of labour market, as the type of labour market was a function of firm size. As well as empowering the unions, the bureau system secured the existence of small firms. These, the most significant, unintended consequences of this system intersected in the 1970s when several unions became involved in establishing small new entrant stevedoring companies. Key developments in ownership and control followed containerization. Rather than containerization resulting in pervasive vertical integration, this process occurred unevenly and was accompanied by a parallel process of vertical disintegration. Instead of large vertically integrated shipping companies becoming the main players within stevedoring, a number of new types of organizations and firms entered the field. This fragmentation of waterfront employers at an economic level became a persistent source of employer disunity which significantly impacted upon outcomes within the spheres of employment relations, industrial relations and work relations during the 1970s and 1980s. The resulting dynamic of union strength and employer weakness only began to be eroded after the institutional and legislative supports of the unions were systematically dismantled by state reformers in the late 1980s. The effects of the bureau system in producing considerable union control, set limits upon what could be achieved by both state reformers and employers in the period after deregulation. All attempts to restructure the industry have come up against the barrier of labour that is already unionized and well-organized. Port reform has, however, allowed a new space for small firms, operating now as stand alone players in the labour market. These small firms have the greatest potential to erode the last remnants of the bureau system, in the union's control of the labour supply, by reintroducing non-union casual labour into the industry.