By Pam Graham
Nov. 22 (BusinessDesk) – KiwiRail’s Interislander ferry business will enter mediation with unions on Friday to try to avert a strike that will halt ferry sailings for a week in December.
As occurred with Auckland bus drivers, members of the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association (AMEA) and Merchant Services Guild (MSG) have not ratified an agreement reached between the company and the unions.
KiwiRail has said all Interislander ferry sailings will be suspended from December 1 to December 8 due to the strike.
KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said on Thursday that the strike would have a severe impact on New Zealand's supply chain at a vital time of the year.
Interislander general manager Thomas Davis earlier said that it was disappointing to receive a strike notice on November 16, rather than a request to return to mediation. AMEA represents 70 engineering officers and MSG represents 54 deck officers.
"If the strike proceeds it will affect about 14,000 passengers and 4,000 cars. About 1,200 rail wagons and a similar number of trucks will also be disrupted,” Quinn said. “Our major freight customers have advised that they are already making alternative plans for their cargo.”
He said the Interislander immediately sought to arrange timely mediation between all parties, and was disappointed to learn that the unions would not be available to engage in mediation until Nov. 23.
KiwiRail’s ferries make 4600 sailings a year, carrying 755,000 passengers, 53,000 rail wagons, 73,000 trucks and 212,000 cars. Two years earlier the ferries carried 845,411 passengers, according to annual reports.
The Interislander business contributed 17 per cent of KiwiRail’s revenue in 2012 when there was a drop in passenger numbers, a sluggish economy and the Aratere ferry was out of action for stretching.
Cheap airfares and declining freight rates over a 10 to 20 year period have been cited by the company as challenges for the Interislander business.
Union officials were not immediately available to comment.