Craig Harrison: Richard Prebble misses the mark


Richard Prebble is badly informed in his recent opinion piece about Covid and border security – at best.

His attack on the Maritime Union and its members is filled with errors of fact.

His first error is his claim port workers aboard the Rio de la Plata in Tauranga were Maritime Union members.

That group of workers are not members of the Maritime Union.

There is more than one union with members in New Zealand ports, and some workers are not in any union.

Secondly, Prebble insinuates the Maritime Union is somehow complicit in lack of vaccinations.

The Maritime Union has encouraged its members (and all port workers) to be vaccinated, and it has worked with employers and health authorities to achieve this, which is all the union can and should do.

Thirdly, Prebble offers a ludicrous conspiracy theory that the Maritime Union and the Labour Party are somehow working together to prevent or delay port workers being vaccinated.

The Government has made a maritime health order that requires port workers to be vaccinated by a specific date in the near future, after which they will not be permitted to work in their current job if they are unvaccinated.

The Maritime Union is working with the Government and employers on this plan.

The union also has a responsibility to ensure a reasonable outcome for those who are not vaccinated, who are entitled to representation. Obviously, if workers are not vaccinated, they will not be working in their normal roles.

Not all port workers in general, nor all union members, nor all members of the public, want to be vaccinated.

How Prebble seeks to lay the blame for this fact with the Maritime Union is unclear.

The difference is we are trying to do something about it, while Prebble rants from the sidelines.

Port workers work around the clock to deliver the goods that allow retired politicians (among others) to enjoy their comfortable, privileged lifestyle.

In their work, port workers are exposed to potential risk by working aboard vessels with overseas crew and potential Covid infection.

Since the start of the pandemic, a high standard of health and safety measures in ports has been overall very successful in preventing Covid-19 coming through our borders.

Prebble should also be aware that a low uptake of vaccinations is also an issue for other sectors of the community, for example Māori and Pacific people.

What we need is education and a positive approach to get everyone on board, not mindless and ill-informed finger-pointing.

Not all ports have low vaccination rates.

The ports where the best uptake of vaccination has occurred are those which have a high rate of union membership, with secure jobs, and employers who work with the union.

The ports with high rates of casualisation, unorganised workers and contracting out are always the main problem in all areas of health and safety – and this business model is the legacy of the failed anti-worker ideology of the 1980s and 1990s.

Prebble is entitled to his own opinions – but not his own facts.

• Craig Harrison is National Secretary, Maritime Union of New Zealand

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