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Australia Pacific National rail strike delays coal shipments

Staff Writer |
A strike lasting 48 hours over the weekend resulted in the cancellation of 90 trains operated by Australian coal haulage company Pacific National and another 48-hour strike is planned for the weekend of October 28-29.

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Pacific National spokeswoman Melinda Hawkins confirmed the 48-hour work stoppage by its train crew went ahead as planned at 12:00 pm (000 GMT) October 21, and added "we have been notified of further industrial action for the weekend of October 28-29."

"These stop work actions will result in significant loss of services to Pacific National customers, notably 90 train services across the Hunter Valley and Illawarra coal chains being canceled due to the Rail, Tram and Bus Union's 48-hour stoppage of work starting this Saturday," said Pacific National in a statement.

The company usually runs 500 freight train services each week in New South Wales that cover the movement of coal, cement, aggregates, and other bulk products such as grain, and livestock, it said.

Precise data on the impact of the weekend's 48-hour strike is difficult to come by, however, a report Sunday from the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator showed a shortfall of 726,000 mt in coal deliveries to Newcastle port last week.

Actual throughput for the Hunter Valley coal chain for Newcastle port was 2.9 million mt in the week ended Sunday, compared to an expected volume of 3.6 million mt, said HVCCC in its latest performance report.

The coal train operator called the strikes by RTBU members working within its New South Wales business unit as "regrettable," saying local power stations were dependent on a reliable supply of thermal coal, and Australian steel mills needed coking coal to maintain their blast furnace operations.

"Export coal volumes could also be impacted, with valuable royalties lost to the people of New South Wales," the company said.

Pacific National said it had the highest regard for its train crews who it described as "productive, skilled and safety conscious," and stressed it had continued to negotiate in good faith with the RTBU for a new enterprise agreement for its New South Wales bulk freight business unit.

"We are not looking to reduce the terms of employment of our train crews, but simply want to better utilize the hours they are being paid, to help the company remain efficient in a competitive sector," said the company in its statement.

The company said it had engaged in 150 hours of negotiations with its employees and the RTBU since late 2016 in a bid to craft a new collective workplace agreement.

Pacific National added that if it gave in to union demands, then its train drivers might work only four days a week for an average yearly salary of A$110,000 ($86,000), plus pension contributions at 12% of gross salary.

The RTBU said Monday that its second, planned 48-hour strike would start at 12:00 pm, Saturday.

The union has also instructed its members who work for Pacific National to not drive any locomotive with a fault that has not been rectified within 24 hours of its notification to the company. This action starts at 12:00 am Tuesday.

Alex Claassens, New South Wales Secretary of the RTBU said Pacific National train crew involved in the industrial dispute were disappointed at having to go on strike, and the union disputed the company's assertion that it was not looking to reduce its employees terms of employment.

"We are hopeful the company will come back to the table and negotiate a reasonable offer," he added.

The union has said talks with the company had been setback by its decision to negotiate separate enterprise agreements for its bulk freight and coal haulage businesses, instead of a single agreement.

Around 600 RTBU members working within Pacific National's coal haulage unit in New South Wales voted in favor of a long list of strike options in a postal vote last month, according to the Fair Work Commission, Australia's employment relations agency.

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