RTBU takes action against Asciano in the Hunter

Pacific National Coal’s NSW operations will shut down on the weekend as pay negotiations fail with the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU)

RTBU takes action against Asciano in the Hunter
RTBU takes action against Asciano in the Hunter

By Anna Game-Lopata | January 5, 2013

Pacific National Coal’s NSW operations will shut down this weekend as pay negotiations fail with the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU).

A last minute bid at arbitration has failed despite an offer
from Pacific National's parent company Asciano
to enter into binding arbitration by the Fair Work Commission to determine a final outcome.

The 24-hour industrial action will commence at 12 midday on Friday 8 February and conclude Saturday February 9.

Asciano says the strike will prevent at least 300,000 tonnes of coal from reaching the port, exports worth over $25 million to the NSW economy every day.

The transport and logistics operator has been in negotiations with the RTBU for 12 months during which it claims to have met with union officials 27 times in an attempt to finalise a new enterprise agreement (EA) for its 840 NSW employees.

"The union logged 103 separate claims at the outset of these negotiations, and we have agreed to 93 of these, and offered wage increases well above CPI and other comparable industry norms," says Pacific National Coal Director David Irwin.

"There are no productivity trade-offs included in the proposed agreement which further highlights the extreme nature of the RTBU wage claims.

"The RTBU has refused what Asciano believes is a very generous wage offer of an annual wage increase of 4 percent each year for the three years of the deal, and is forcing its members to walk away from an additional $2,500 in backpay with a further $350 at stake each month until this agreement is signed."

While Asciano says the union’s wage demand is "exorbitantly" set at an increase of 9 percent in the first year of the new Enterprise Agreement with increases of 7 percent in the two following years, the union denies this.

The RTBU tells SupplyChain Review these figures were part of the normal "argy-bargy" of industrial negotiation and
members would be happy with a wages
proposal higher than Asciano’s recent offer of 4 percent but lower than
9 percent, figures which have been on the table but withdrawn.

RTBU National Secretary Bob Nanva says the 4 percent offer was voted down by 85 per cent of the workforce in December, before members voted to endorse industrial action in January.

"Negotiation is a two way street. While the union is receptive to revised offers, Pacific National has barely budged," Nanva says.

"Pacific National has deliberately brought these negotiations to a standstill, leaving the RTBU no option other than industrial action."

Nanva also accuses Asciano of waging an "ideological campaign".

In particular, the union objects to Asciano’s tactic of placing a time limit of January 31 for agreement to be reached on the 4 percent offer without industrial action before it drops to 3 percent.

The RTBU also claims Asciano offered higher pay rises to members who don’t take strike action and instigated threats of legal action from customers Xstrata and Whitehave Coal.

But Asciano refutes the accusations saying any communications between the RTBU and Xstrata or Whitehaven Coal were undertaken as a completely separate matter from its negotiations with the RTBU.

A spokesperson for the company adds a number of employees were offered a guarantee of the 4 percent deal, however these members had approached the company independently wishing to distance themselves from industrial action.

"Asciano’s coal division, Pacific National Coal, was approached by a considerable number (over 50) of its NSW employees who wanted to accept the terms of Pacific National Coal’s current wages offer before that offer expired on 31st January," the spokes person says.

"After due consideration Pacific National Coal has decided to guarantee these wages terms to any employees who make this request, and has communicated this to all relevant employees to ensure that it cannot be implied that this is a selective process.

"Any employee who requests this guarantee will continue to be employed under an applicable EA."

David Irwin adds from the start, Pacific National Coal has been unambiguous in its commitment to a sustainable wage increase.

"But we simply cannot understand why the union is forcing our employees to give up a strong wage increase and walk away from a payment of $2,500 with a further $350 each month in order to simply prove a point," he says.

"While the RTBU has refused Pacific National’s offer to enter into consent arbitration, the offer is still on the table.

"Pacific National will do everything possible to manage the impact of the RTBU’s protected industrial action on our customers and the broader coal industry."

Pacific National Coal is the largest coal haulage operator in NSW, and is currently responsible for hauling 80 percent of the total domestic and export coal in NSW.

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