Cost-cutting by KiwiRail could cost workers their lives if
tests on Chinese-made trains show positive results for
asbestos, the train drivers' union says.
It comes after 40 of the state-owned company's locomotives
were taken out of action following the discovery of the
potentially deadly material in a soundproofing compound
inside one of the vehicles on Friday.
Initial tests had confirmed the asbestos was contained and
not a health risk, KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said.
However, further testing will be carried out tomorrow to see
if the material had leaked into the air or onto surfaces of
any of the trains.
Wayne Butson, general secretary of the Rail and Marine
Transport Union (RMTU), said the situation had left many
workers fearing for their health and that of their families.
"There's the likelihood that they may either have breathed in
asbestos fibres and be susceptible then to what is
essentially a death sentence if it materialises in the lungs
and triggers mesothelioma, or they may have taken it home in
their clothing, put it into the washing machine and therefore
any member of the family is at risk as well," he said.
"So members are extremely concerned about all of this."
Tests that were carried out last year on the locomotives,
following revelations that Chinese-manufactured vehicles in
Australia contained the product, had given the locomotives
the all clear, he said.
"So clearly that's not true, and unfortunately the same
company that's testing them now is the same one that tested
them last year, and so there may be a wider discussion around
that," Mr Butson said, adding that it is not illegal to
import asbestos into New Zealand, as it is in other
However, the wider issue was around Government procurement
"skewed towards" seeking the cheapest option, he said.
"These Chinese locos cost us a railway workshop in Dunedin,
they cost us hundreds of skilled jobs, and now they may end
up costing some of our members their lives, potentially.
"If these locos had been made in Dunedin, or even in any
other first world country, we wouldn't be putting up with
this rubbish. It's pretty symptomatic of why most Kiwis are
sceptical about anything that comes out of China."
Earlier KiwiRail said the inclusion of asbestos in the trains
was in breach of a contract specification which clearly
stated the material should not be used.
"We are clearly very disappointed with this situation and
working closely with the manufacturers to understand how this
could possibly have occurred. They have taken full
responsibility for this and have undertaken to do whatever is
necessary to rectify the situation as quickly as possible for
us," Mr Reidy said.
- Patrice Dougan of APNZ