Commission calls time on Aurizon train driver strikes

The Fair Work Commission has ordered Aurizon and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union to attend a meeting in Newcastle today and called a moratorium on further industrial action until Wednesday.

The move comes after Aurizon train drivers took 48 hours of strike action last week and were subsequently locked out by the haulage company for the same amount of time.

The protracted action was set to continue last Saturday with another 24-hour strike planned by the union under part of the Fair Work Act that legitimises ‘‘employee response action’.

However the commission put a stop to the proposal and ordered employees return to work at 4pm on Saturday.

RTBU National Secretary Bob Nanva said it was disappointing Aurizon had decided to lock out its workers.

“All week Aurizon has been condemning the approved protected industrial action drivers have been forced to take, calling it a significant and costly disruption. And yet they have chosen to extend it themselves,” Nanva said.

However Aurizon said the union left it with no choice stating it would not “tolerate a rolling campaign of indefinite, unpredictable stoppages”.

Issues have risen over pay negotiations, which have been ongoing since May last year.

The union 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” the union 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.”

But the rail company says its proposal is more than fair and includes increases in long service leave and a 12 per cent wage increase over three years.

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

Aurizon has called the strikes "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.

Australian Mining understands just two of Aurizon’s customers were able to call on the help of rival Pacific National to haul their coal to port.

BHP Billiton has previously 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.

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