Agribusiness & Food, Logistics, Ports & Terminals, Mining and Heavy Industries

Patrick, PN strikes wreaking rail havoc

Pacific National class 92 locomotives hauling a coal train over a rail bridge crossing the Hunter River at Singleton, NSW. Photo: Creative Commons / Bluedawe.

Strike action from Pacific National drivers is reportedly forcing freight onto the roads in Victoria, while a waterfront dispute at Port Botany has reportedly halted rail freight at the major Sydney port.

According to the ABC, an ongoing dispute between Pacific National and drivers represented by the Rail Tram and Bus Union has worsened in recent days.

The operator has reportedly responded to a two-day driver strike by locking out workers for the whole week.

Ken Wakefield, managing director of trucking company Wakefield Transport, reportedly told the ABC his company had put on an additional 634 trips this week to carry freight usually put on rail.

He reportedly said the unusual surge in demand was costing his company more than it was worth.

“It’s costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s crippling us,” he was quoted as saying.

“We’ve had to bring resources in from the capital cities to be able to meet the demand for road freight. At this stage that cost is being absorbed by the business. We are hoping that the RTBU negotiate with Pacific National and get to a satisfactory outcome early.”

RTBU representative Marc Marotta claims PN is asking workers to take pay cuts of as much as $19,000 per annum, according to the ABC.

He also reportedly said common-sense travel conditions were also under threat.

“Now [PN] says you will start and finish up to 120 [kilometres] away, you will get yourself to those locations at your own expense, and on your own time, and then travel home after an 11-hour shift another couple of hours’ drive to go home,” he was quoted by the ABC.

“That’s just unheard of.”

Meanwhile, PN’s former housemate, Patrick – the stevedoring firm which also used to be owned by Asciano before that firm was broken up and sold off last year – is dealing with its own industrial dispute, according to more reports.

The AFR this week reported all rail freight to and from Patrick’s terminal at Port Botany was at a stand-still, as workers refused to service trains.

Patrick reportedly says workers are in defiance of Fair Work Commission and Federal Court orders. But the Maritime Union of Australia claims the stevedore is in the wrong.

Patrick recently leased out a part of its Port Botany site not covered by an MUA agreement, to new half-owner, Qube Logistics, for use as an empty container yard, according to multiple sources.

But the union says Patrick is simply engaging in dirty tactics to get work done at the port with a non-unionised workforce.

Steve Cotton, head of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, spoke in support of the MUA’s cause this week.

“The ITF has become aware of a number of disputes in your Port Botany terminal, including outsourcing rail work, and the decision by Patrick Stevedores to sub lease an area inside the terminal to their owners Qube-Brookfield to carry out work performed traditionally by Australian wharfies,” Cotton’s open letter to Patrick states.

“This includes forklift, reachstacker, clerical, and foreman duties. This decision is not supported by the ACTU and we support the Maritime Union of Australia in their struggle in support of wharfies and maritime workers.”

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