Mainfreight’s Braid says strike ‘disruptive’ in peak week

Mainfreight managing director Don Braid

The fight to save rail is being set back by threatened industrial action on KiwiRail's Cook Strait ferries in the biggest freight week of the year, Mainfreight managing director Don Braid says.

KiwiRail's Interislander ferry business will enter mediation with unions tomorrow to try to avert a strike that will halt Interislander ferry sailings from December 1-8.

Mr Braid says the selfish and "bloody disruptive" act by unions takes the country back to the bad old days on the ferries.

"What disappoints us the most is there has been so much effort gone into getting rail back up and running in the last few years under this new ownership that the government has. Not only KiwiRail, ourselves and a lot of other customers have put a lot of effort into working on rail.

"We are moving more freight than we have ever before on rail and we have the support of our customers," he says. "And here we have the unions taking us back to the 1980s, which is just bloody stupid."

Last year Mainfreight moved 10,000 tonnes of freight, or 14,000 consignments, across Cook Strait in its busiest freight week of the year – the first week of December – and there would be more this year, Braid says.

Freight moved "just-in-time" these days and the disruption would not help the people of Christchurch, where warehousing was reduced after the earthquakes.

"Freight is moving in and out as quickly as possible. This is just more pressure that Christchurch does not need."

As occurred with Auckland bus drivers, members of the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association and Merchant Services Guild did not ratify a settlement recommended by the unions, according to KiwiRail.

KiwiRail has said all Interislander ferry sailings will be suspended in the first week of next month because of  the strike.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn saysthat the strike will have a severe impact on New Zealand's supply chain at a vital time of the year.

Interislander general manager Thomas Davis earlier says it is 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 4000 cars. About 1200 rail wagons and a similar number of trucks will also be disrupted," Mr Quinn says.

"Our major freight customers have advised that they are already making alternative plans for their cargo."

He says 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 November 23.

Bluebridge ferries are still operating and freight companies are trying to get customers to move freight earlier.

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.

Two of its three ferries have rail decks, which effectively make them part of the national rail network.

The Interislander business contributed 17% 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.

(BusinessDesk)

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12 Comments & Questions

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Dear PM. Given the government owns the Interislander it is effectively part of the merchant navy. Please divert crew from the Royal NZ Navy to man the ships and maintain services. This gives the perfect opportunity to show strength and leadership in a time of crisis that will be supported by the good majority of New Zealanders. I think it will also help in a major way your ratings in the polls. Yours sincerely, Mr A Typical-Voter

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The Interislander and Bluebridge ferries are part of the merchant navy, whether the government owns them or not. The RNZN is NOT part of the merchant navy. For the RNZN to run the ferries, the government would need to declare a state of emergency, as very few naval officers hold merchant service tickets, nor naval ratings equivalent MN qualifications, and are therefore not normally legally entitled to operate merchant ships.

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Well, emergency legislation would also be an option. A group of selfish maritime workers shouldn't be allowed to hold this country to ransom. As for the number of naval officers holding merchant tickets, can be dealt with in the same legislation.

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The ferries out for the lead up to Christmas – isn’t that a trip down memory lane?

Stuff the family Christmas plans to get together, they will understand.

Bugger government, they can front up with another $100 million to keep the rail going, they can just increase taxes.

That will show business when Christmas stock didn’t get through, then the filthy B@#!! laid-off staff.

Customers claim we are unreliable and are using alternatives, Oh, the disloyalty! More time off, pay packets are smaller though.

The management claim less freight means less maintenance required. You just cannot believe a word management say!

Or maybe I am stuck in an old rerun of Back to the Future?

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All this is just a forerunner should there be a change of govt in 2014. Seems if that comes to pass we will look back and realise the unions are really the Labour/Green parties combined. Seems economy destroyers will stop at nothing to disrupt the life blood of any nation's commerce. Unions have destroyed Europe with their crazy demands. Have NZ Unions learned nothing? Appears so.

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OK for Braid earning a million-plus a year while the rest of us bones of our a*se. No idea about the real world.

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Hi Anon. If you are on the bones of your a*se, stop and go and do something about it rather than moan. From a distance and with no association with Mainfreight or Braid, your comments aren't helpful to moving NZ forward.

As an example, let's recall how many jobs Mainfreight has created from three guys and three trucks many years ago. I think you should listen very carefully to the message and the Mainfreight guys and take note.

Sure, not every one will be friends of Mainfreight, and I am sure there are many competitors that will hate them, but using a successful model in their home market they are now rolling that out on a global basis, with their overseas earnings looking very strong and growing well.

Mainfreight has the potential to be one of the top three or four companies in NZ from a start 30 years ago – a huge achievement and one that deserves recognition. The founders and management deserve respect and careful consideration of their messages and warnings, something the Interislander uinions and members won't get with their current action or 1950s mentality.

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Does seem to be timed to cause the maximum damage and disruption, but very curious that the unions had recommended to seal the deal but the members disagreed. Another disfunctional group just like those at Port of Auckland?

On the other hand, I hear that Interislander management have been quite nasty through the ordeal so probably both sides need to pull their heads in.

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It's an old ploy. Union says they told the members to accept but the members reject it. So it always comes across that the problem is with your staff who are unhappy and yet the union delegates look like the kingpin to broker the deal.

Been there a hundred times with that ploy.

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Isn't it interesting that almost all of the really protracted and costly strikes we have seen in recent years occur where government (local or central) owns the infrastructure: schoolteachers, Ports of Auckland, KiwiRail...

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Protracted and costly schoolteacher strikes??

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PM John Key, do what Joh Bjelke-Petersen (Queensland premier) did in the 1980s. Ultimatum: Get back to work or lose your jobs. He had the army come in and run South East Queensland Electricity and sacked every worker and allowed them all to reapply for their jobs. Problem solved!

Funny how the workers quickly recognised their place in the scheme of things. The Queenslanders applauded him for such decisive and strong leadership.

I wouldn't expect Key to do this because it would be far too unpopular ... it's all about trying be everyone's mate. Leaders can't be everyone's mate, they have to lead whether popular or unpopular.

A strong leader will not "run and hide" when a strike event will have such disruptive consequences for the country. Show us you've got the balls to do the job, John. I've waited four years to see any evidence of strong, decisive leadership.

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