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Unions have role to play in reaching growth goals

Unions have role to play in reaching growth goals

World-class transport infrastructure is critical to achieving the government’s goal of restoring New Zealand to the top half of the OECD rankings, Transport Minister Paul Swain told a Council of Trade Unions’ conference in Auckland.

“Unions and workers have a big part to play in helping us get back there,” he said. “Unlike the previous National government we do not see unions as a roadblock to economic prosperity but rather as partners.

“The government is now taking an integrated approach to transport looking at different modes – road, rail, sea and air – to come up with the best solutions.”

As far as shipping is concerned, I know that maritime unions and some shipping companies have concerns about the impact of the removal of cabotage and marginal pricing by foreign shippers on the coastal trade. ”I have asked the industry to provide further information on marginal pricing.

“Having said that I am informed that only 7% of New Zealand coastal cargo is picked up by foreign ships. If cabotage policy were to be re-considered, the implications for coastal freight rates would be a real issue, as competition has kept coastal freight rates under control, and any return to former freight rates could have real consequences for exporters and the regional economies.”

The fall-out from September 11 had had major impacts on maritime and aviation security in New Zealand, said Mr Swain. “It is important that New Zealand adopt the International Maritime Organisation’s international ship and port facility security code, which comes into effect on 1 July, 2004. This will protect against future terrorist activity and ensure that our trading interests are not harmed by worries over the safety of New Zealand ports or the security status of goods exported from this country.

“Likewise it is important that New Zealand tighten up its aviation security. The Aviation Security Service has doubled in size, now employing over 400 staff when, in February 2001, it employed 187. This is a booming industry and presents many opportunities for potential employees.

“Improving the safety of the workplace for employees is another key consideration of this government,” said Mr Swain. I’m pleased to note that, from 5 May this year, aircraft workers will be covered under the Health and Safety in Employment Act. This redresses the gap in health and safety coverage of aircrew since the HSE Act was passed in 1992. Keeping the aircraft and passengers safe is one way of ensuring crew safety but now aircraft operators will need to consider if there is anything else they need to do to protect their crew.”

The Railways Bill, which toughens up rail safety requirements, would be ready for introduction to Parliament soon, said Mr Swain. “The old model in which a government owns, operates and regulates the railways no longer exists. The Bill recognises this and is written to manage a number of industry players. The important thing in a fragmented sector is to ensure that safety remains paramount.”

Mr Swain said that the idea of a cyber-university for the transport sector had been floated at the Australian Transport Minister’s conference, which he attended recently. “This could provide up-skilling for workers in the sector. New Zealand workers could take advantage of this opportunity and I have asked my officials to follow this up with their Australian counterparts,” he said.

“A thriving and sustainable transport sector along with a strong union movement is essential to promote the economic, social and environmental goals we have set ourselves. I am sure the Council of Trade Unions will be working with us to accomplish them over the next few years,” said Mr Swain.

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