by Phil Duncan
Rail workers in Dunedin have issued a notice of strike action for 24 hours on Friday, November 25 against Dunedin Railways, formerly known as Taieri Gorge Railway. The railway is owned by Dunedin City Council.
The issue of strike action comes after about four months of negotiations between the Rail Maritime Transport Union and the employer.
The sticking point in the negotiations has been the employer’s rejection of the union claim for a 4% pay increase in the first year of a two-year contract and a 2% increase in the second year. The employer is only offering 3% in the first year to most of the rail workers, despite the fact that in recent years the workers agreed to no pay increases, or increases below the level of inflation, to ‘help’ the company through the downturn in tourism in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes.
Dunedin City Council is expecting $5.9 million in interests and dividends for the 2016/17 financial year. Moreover, both passenger numbers and revenue for Dunedin railways is increasing. The cost of the pay rises for the rail workers – about a third of whom work for less than the living wage – would be a mere $30,000 a year. The living wage is currently estimated at $19.80 an hour.
The cost to the company of strike action may lead the company to decide it’s simply not worth being so stingy in relation to pay.
Alternatively, the company may decide that to agree to the union’s relatively moderate demands could set a small precedent.
In any case, the stance of the company shows that the union’s official attitude of agreeing to zero pay rises and rises below the level of inflation in the past have been counter-productive. Sacrifices on the part of workers are simply taken for granted by capitalist companies, regardless of whether they are privately- or publicly-owned. Cap in hand usually gets rewarded with kick in teeth.