Aurizon train drivers strike for 48 hours

Coal haulage in the Hunter Valley will be disrupted from today as 200 Aurizon train drivers walk 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.

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”.

“This irresponsible strike action comes at a time when local coal producers are needing every tonne of coal shipped,” the company said.

“A 48 hour strike effectively becomes 72 hours of lost production because it takes about 12 hours to close down operations and 12 hours to re-start our business.”

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 has warned that if train drivers go on strike, they will be forfeiting the $2000 payment.

“Strike action changes nothing,” the company said.

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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