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EXPORTS of agricultural, mineral and timber products through Victorian ports face big disruptions from two rail industry battles over wage and work conditions.
A two-month dispute between Pacific National and Rail, Tram and Bus Union train drivers failed to be resolved in talks on Monday.
Meanwhile, an 18-month standoff between the union’s track maintenance and operation crews and the Australian Rail Track Corporation is set to escalate into industrial action.
.The RTBU said the ARTC wanted to strip leave entitlements and water down contractual obligations under the existing arrangements in line with the Federal Government’s wage policy.
The union wants to retain the existing employment conditions and a 14 per cent pay rise over four years.
An ARTC spokesman said the corporation had been negotiating with Victorian unions for a new enterprise agreement.
The RTBU has taken the first step in the Fair Work Commission, which could see stoppages roll out on ARTC lines in the coming weeks.
The ARTC lines include interstate lines between Melbourne and Sydney and Melbourne and Adelaide — the latter including lines through Geelong to Portland — and to Yarrawonga.
The industrial action would also affect the Victorian network, as most trains travel on ARTC lines to get to port.
RTBU state secretary Luba Grigorovitch said the union wanted rail industry conditions to remain in step with the rest of the state. “Having posted a $192 million profit for the past financial year, ARTC needs to act in the best interest of the public, their clients and its employees,” she said.
EBA negotiations between train drivers and Pacific National has disrupted grain movement from northern Victoria to the ports.
Victorian Farmers Federation vice president Brett Hosking said Pacific National and ARTC “held a massive presence in Victoria’s rail freight industry”. Up to three million tonnes of Victorian grain is moved by rail each year. “When they (PN and ARTC) don’t operate, there’s few freight services working in Victoria, and that immediately puts trucks on the road,” Mr Hosking said.
Wakefield Transport chief executive Ken Wakefield said he had been forced to drive trucks to port after industrial stoppages hit PN’s rail service.
“The RTBU think they’re hurting Pacific National, but they’re hurting regional growers, regional exporters and regional businesses,” he said.
A Pacific National spokeswoman said the company would try to minimise disruption to customers.
This article first appeared on www.weeklytimesnow.com.au
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