6 Oct 2017

Rail union threatens further strikes over Wgtn deal

8:48 am on 6 October 2017

There could be a return to old-style industrial action on the railways, according to the Rail and Maritime Transport Union.

People queue for buses at the train station in Wellington.

Photo: RNZ

Union members voted to reject an employment contract offer for the Wellington commuter train service during a two-hour strike called on Wednesday.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union general secretary Wayne Butson said they were unimpressed at how the matter had been handled by the company so far.

"This is the first time since 1994 that there has been a complete shutdown of the Wellington metro system," he said.

"In fact, it has taken 15 years for us to get an employer who has angered the workers sufficiently to cause a strike."

Transdev, a French-headquartered multinational company, took over the contract to run Wellington trains from KiwiRail last year.

Mr Butson argued Transdev had mishandled negotiations and risked bringing New Zealand back to an earlier age of industrial turmoil.

Transdev executive Emily Liddell rejected any suggestion it had mishandled its industrial relations and questioned the union's action.

"We are really surprised that they chose to take strike action," she said.

"We spent three and a half months negotiating a bargaining process agreement that would mean no disruption to passenger services for them to be able to meet with their staff.

"So we are very disappointed and surprised that they decided to take strike action."

Transdev operates 2189 train services each week, with millions of passenger journeys each year.

Fifty-seven percent of the cost is borne by fare-paying passengers.

The remainder is split between the New Zealand Transport Agency and the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

Despite those payments and its oversight role, council transport chief Barbara Donaldson said she was taking a hands-off approach.

She said this industrial dispute was out of her control but if it got out of hand, she would act - up to a point.

"If it was necessary to facilitate a meeting between one of our contractors and their employees we would do that," she said.

"But that is all we would do, we would not come between an employer and their workers."

The dispute is partly over pay. The workers yesterday rejected a 1.3 percent pay offer that the company said was higher with add-ons.

More significantly, the company wants the power to require work on statutory holidays if necessary - the union said that must be voluntary.

Commuters spoken to at the station were unhappy about any future strife, but were divided on who to blame. Some said it would cause them great inconvenience, but others said the union had to stand up for its rights.

It was not yet certain whether there would be more strike action, but there will certainly be a resounding no from the unions to management when they next meet on 10 October.

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