New Zealand: Auckland Rail maintenance workers locked out over pay claim

The maintenance workers responsible for safety checks on Auckland Transport passenger trains have been locked out for 30 days, from 13 May, following industrial action. The dispute came about because of the difference in pay between the workers – contracted by Spanish multinational CAF (Construcciones y Auxiliares de Ferrocarriles) – and Kiwirail workers. The technicians receive about $7000pa less than Kiwirail workers doing the same job. The workers are asking for a 13 percent pay increase over two years. The counter-offer from the company is 5.5 over two years.

In response, the technicians voted to take industrial action in the form of a partial strike – the workers would still do safety checks, but had stopped doing maintenance on the trains. CAF's over-reaction was to summarily suspend the striking workers for 30 days. A company spokesman said that as the workers were involved in strike action the company was well within its rights to lock them out.

The Railway and Maritime Transport Union represents 26, out of a total of 29, technicians working on the AT vehicles. The remaining three non-union workers are left to do any repairs necessary for all 72 electric trains. Safety inspections have been passed on to the drivers, most of them are also represented by the RMTU. The drivers have said that they would not ‘okay’ any unsafe trains for travel. All scheduled maintenance has been postponed until the strike has been resolved.

Exploitation of migrants

The union wants to stress that these are highly-skilled workers and replacing them in a timely manner will be impossible because it takes years to learn the skills needed for the job. There is a shortage of these technicians in the country, and with payscales being what they are, CAF is unlikely to headhunt new candidates.

CAF is notorious internationally for hiring migrant workers and underpaying them, while tying up their visa to their continued employment with the company. Once the workers arrive in New Zealand, they realise that they are being ripped off when compared to others doing similar jobs. It is then difficult for them to renegotiate. The lockout is a typical tactic of CAF's in response to industrial action.

CAF is deliberately targeting vulnerable workers – people who don't have a good idea of what are reasonable pay and conditions and who have no support system, while enjoying fewer rights because of their work-visa conditions. These actions are reprehensible, we demand fair treatment for all workers regardless of background.

Auckland Transport's response has been muted. They have said that the dispute has nothing to do with them, and that they have not been notified of any delays or problems. AT has said that they do not expect disruptions in the short term. In the future, some services may be cancelled or reduced on a makeshift basis, depending on demand and other considerations. Their stand-offish attitude is cowardly, seeing as AT answers to ratepayers. Aucklanders don't want their safety compromised so that a multinational can make bigger profits.

  • Support the workers' demand of a 13 percent pay increase, end the lock-out, no victimisation of striking workers!
  • Auckland Transport must be held accountable for its contractors' actions by Auckland Council on behalf of the people of Tamaki Makaurau!
  • CAF must be held liable for any health and safety breaches as a consequence of the lockout!

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