Union march against mothballing, job cuts

Workers are demanding Dunedin Railways ‘‘at the very least’’ apply for a wage subsidy extension to help rescind its staff redundancies.

About 20 people marched from the Dunedin Railway Station, up Stuart St to the Municipal Chambers stairs yesterday morning, to deliver a letter to the mayor.

The letter, written by Rail and Maritime Transport Union members, expressed concerns about Dunedin Railways’ decision to go ahead with a mothballing scheme, which they believed was ‘‘ill thought out’’.

The union members, joined by local politicians, chanted that when the railway was ‘‘under attack’’ they would ‘‘stand up and fight back’’.

Rallying for rail ... Rail and Maritime Transport Union members and local politicians gather...
Rallying for rail ... Rail and Maritime Transport Union members and local politicians gather outside the railway station yesterday to march to the Municipal Chambers stairs, to protest Dunedin Railways Ltd’s decision to mothball its track and equipment to avoid closure, following the effects Covid-19. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
People tooted their car horns in support as they passed by.

The protest was led by the union’s Otago branch secretary Dave Kearns, on behalf of the Keep Dunedin Rail Rolling campaign.

He said Dunedin Railways was under an ‘‘imminent’’ threat of closure at the end of the month and about 51 people would lose their jobs.

Dunedin Railways announced it would mothball its track and equipment in a bid to avoid closing entirely, following the effects of Covid-19.

Mr Kearns said the union had come up with better ways to keep the railways going, including a commuter rail trial between Mosgiel and Dunedin.

‘‘We realised the board of Dunedin Railways has reacted with zero vision and zero ideas and so our supporters here and ourselves have done their jobs for them,’’ he said.

At last month’s annual plan deliberations, Dunedin city councillors voted unanimously against conducting a feasibility study for such a trial, saying there was not enough time for a report and trial before freight traffic on the line increased in September.

Yesterday’s march was to urge the council to support a trial, which Mr Kearns believed would save jobs and keep the assets rolling.

There were ‘‘seven weeks remaining before July 20, the latest a six-week trial could practically occur’’.

‘‘To us, the issue is about how slowly bureaucratic wheels turn rather than any practical obstacle,’’ the letter said.

Labour Taieri candidate and RMTU member Ingrid Leary also joined the march and said rail was a ‘‘no-brainer’’.

‘‘This decision does not make sense.

‘‘It is not what the people want, it is not what the council wants, it seems to be coming from a very small group of individuals.’’

She said not going ahead with a feasibility study and mothballing would not support the pandemic recovery and would bring a ‘‘death bell’’ to rail.

Taieri Gorge Ltd senior hostess Pat Tutty worked for the railway for about 30 years and said it was the ‘‘bread and butter’’ of the railway.

It was also a personal loss for her.

‘‘It is magical ... you do not stay in a job that long if you do not love it.’’

She believed the decision to mothball rail operations, following Covid-19, was a ‘‘convenient excuse’’ to get rid of the company.



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