Business & Investing: Ports of Auckland accepts poor relationship with union contributed to health and safety failures, Plus Australian market falls on Brisbane cluster news

A damning review into worker safety at the Ports of Auckland has revealed a culture of fear, intimidation and unsafe work practices that has led to the Maritime Union of NZ (MUNZ) calling for the resignation of the port’s CEO and Board.

The review, headed by Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHASNZ) chair Roger McRae, follows three employee deaths in recent years and identified significant problems across critical health and safety risk management.

A key finding in the review was the need for the executive team to better prioritise safety over productivity and profitability.

The report noted there were “gaps between executive management’s understanding of health and safety control procedures” and what operating practices were being applied in reality

Mayor Phil Goff, who ordered the review, said families of port workers had an expectation that their loved ones would return home from work safely each night. For three families, the port’s management had failed in that obligation.

“Health and safety rules that keep people safe are not ‘a nice to have’. They are a vital component of good management in any workplace,” Goff said.

Ports of Auckland chair Bill Osborne acknowledged the need to improve the port’s health and safety culture which he admitted had been poor and said he and the board were fully committed to implementing the recommendations of the review.

However, Osborne said the relationship between the port and MUNZ had been one of the root causes that had led to the poor culture of health and safety. He said working with union leadership and other staff to overhaul safety systems would be important.

CEO Tony Gibson said he took responsibility for the review’s findings while admitting he wasn’t fully aware of the extent of the failings the review had highlighted.

Local business travel almost fully recovered

Air New Zealand has achieved an unlikely milestone confirming yesterday that domestic business and corporate travel has defied global trends and is now close to 90 percent of pre-Covid levels.

The airline noted that in many places around the world, such as the US, business travel is only sitting at around 15 percent of domestic travel.

In response to increased demand, Air New Zealand said it had added extra capacity to its network and would be bringing back more staff as well as such as deploying larger A321 aircraft on strongly booked flights.

The airline said it expects air freight capacity to increase by at least 30 percent when the trans-Tasman travel bubble opens, with downward pressure on freight rates likely to be immediate.

Air freight costs rose by almost 50 percent post-Covid despite $372 million of government assistance to the airfreight industry to keep vital exports and imports flowing.

Small business owners proving to be resilient

The country’s small business sector continues to weather the impact of Covid-19, according to new figures provided by accounting software provider Xero.

Revenue in February increased 1.5 percent from a year earlier while jobs also lifted 1.8 percent compared with the first week of March last year as the pandemic was beginning to take hold.

Xero managing director for NZ and the Pacific Islands Craig Hudson said the overall growth was encouraging, especially in the wake of recent declining GDP data.

Xero’s data showed all industries except hospitality enjoyed year-on-year revenue growth in February, led by manufacturing, up 8 percent, retail trade which lifted 4 percent and professional services, also rose 2 percent. However, hospitality revenue was down 14 percent from February last year after being impacted by the two lockdowns.

Revenue through small businesses grew in most regions, though it noted Queenstown remains the most seriously impacted with revenue down almost 20 percent year-on-year.

Australian shares fall after second community cluster revealed in Brisbane

Australia’s benchmark ASX200 share index fell almost 1 percent yesterday closing at 6738 as news of a second growing coronavirus cluster in Brisbane added further uncertainty to the market’s near-term outlook.

The index erased early gains and later fell sharply to record its biggest one day fall in more than a month.

Iron ore giants Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue each lost more than 2 percent of their value. Fellow blue-chips CSL, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Woolworths, Wesfarmers and Macquarie also fell.

Telstra shares bucked the trend touching a 12-month high on a rating and price target upgrade from Morgan Stanley analysts.

As news of the widening coronavirus cluster in Brisbane spread, the market turned lower. NSW residents have been told to avoid travel to Queensland if possible.

Australia’s $90 billion JobKeeper subsidy also ended this week adding to the nervousness.

Resurgent US Treasury yields set to retest market’s nerve

The key 10 Year US Treasury yield is back on the rise again, trading last night at its highest level since before the Covid-19 pandemic struck early last year.

Yields on 10 Year Treasuries rose as much as 0.05 percentage points to just above 1.76 per cent, the highest point since January 2020. The fresh bout of selling came as investors weighed continued optimism over the US’s vaccine rollout and another plan to boost fiscal stimulus.

US bond markets have led a global retreat in government debt since January as investors fret that the Federal Reserve will allow the economy to run hot, with massive amounts of government spending combining with monetary stimulus to pump up inflation.

US President Joe Biden earlier this week promised that by mid-April 90 percent of US adults would be eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine and would have access to a vaccination site within five miles of their homes.

Tomorrow, the President will travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to lay out plans for a new US$3 trillion infrastructure package, which comes less than a month after the passing of the administration’s US$1.9tn fiscal stimulus bill.

Andrew Patterson is Newsroom's Markets Editor and has worked for decades as a financial journalist, radio presenter and editor with Australia's ABC, Radio Live and NBR.

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