Aurizon to lock out train drivers after strike action

Rail freight operator Aurizon has confirmed it will lock out 200 train drivers after they complete a 48 hour strike this week.

Coal haulage in the Hunter Valley was disrupted today as 200 train drivers walked off the job for 48 hours.

The move comes as wage negotiations, which have been ongoing since May last year, reach a stalemate.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union’s Steve Wright said workers are asking for a series of “reasonable offers” which have been refused by the transport company.

In light of the strike action which Aurizon has labelled as “reckless”, workers will now be locked out for 48 hours from midday Thursday 27 February to 4am Saturday 1 March 2014. 

“Aurizon has not taken this decision lightly but we are compelled to find a speedy resolution to this impasse.  While the union favours industrial action over returning to the bargaining table, Aurizon has few options to resolve this matter quickly and effectively,” the company said.

“We cannot tolerate a rolling campaign of indefinite, unpredictable stoppages that are designed by the union to cause on-going disruption to our business and our customers’ business. That is not in anyone’s interests.”

Wright says Aurizon train drivers are the lowest paid in the Hunter Valley but work the most hours per week.

"Our members are currently required to work 168 hours (a month), which is a 42-hour week,’ Wright said.

"They're asking for a reduction of that into a 38-hour week, just like everyone else.

"Unfortunately we haven't been able to (achieve that) – that company's moved to 40 hours (a week) at the moment.”

Aurizon has labelled the strike as "reckless in the current economic environment”.

“Local coal producers need Aurizon to be a reliable and efficient supplier day after day, week after week and not have the threat of industrial action constantly hanging over them.

“The Australian coal industry is operating in a very challenging global market and Aurizon cannot accept long-term impacts through disruptive and protracted industrial action.”

However Wright says workers want a fair go, ABC reports.

"The (Aurizon) CEO Mr (Lance) Hockridge received a 34 per cent pay increase at the last increase.

"Reckless? I don't think it's reckless.

"All our members are asking for is a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

"At the moment they are the lowest paid train drivers in the Hunter Valley."

The Aurizon proposal includes increases in long service leave, a 12 per cent wage increase over three years and a $2000 one-off cash payment.

The company says if the agreement had been put in place Aurizon drivers would be receiving up to $121,000 per year by 2016.

‘‘This issue is no longer about Aurizon workers and their agreement. It’s about the right of workers in the Hunter and across Australia to collectively bargain without fear, threats or intimidation,” RTBU national secretary Bob Nanva said last week.

Meanwhile, BHP Billiton has threatened to take the union to court over the strike action.

The miner says its Mt Arthur coal mine will be negatively affected by strikes, with the mine’s general manager, Mark van den Heuvel, stating it would take “all necessary steps’’ including legal action to prevent harm to its business.

Aurizon said it has been communicating with customers and working on contingency plans and response options.

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