Union to picket Chinese wagons

The arrival of a KiwiRail consignment of Chinese-produced railway wagons in New Zealand will provoke a hostile reception from rail and maritime workers, as unions protest in support of job-threatened engineering employees in Dunedin and Wellington.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union delegates at the Port of Tauranga yesterday voted unanimously to picket next week's expected arrival of about 135 flat-deck railway wagons at the North Island port.

RMTU national president Aubrey Wilkinson, of Tauranga, said union members determined "some sort of action" was needed to protest KiwiRail's insistence on outsourcing its rail manufacturing contracts overseas.

He did not rule out the possibility of RMTU workers refusing to unload the flat-deck wagons when they arrived, but such industrial actions were "not the kind of details we have discussed yet".

"We will picket the vessel once it arrives at port and we are expecting an exceptional turnout from our [union] members and port employees," Mr Wilkinson said.

The Port of Tauranga has about 247 employees, who are all members of the RMTU, and up to another 200 railside union workers, he said.

"Anger" was the "single word" which best described how RMTU members in the North Island felt about KiwiRail's decision to cut 70 jobs nationwide from its rail engineering and design operations, Mr Wilkinson said.

South Dunedin engineering outfit Hillside is scheduled to be the hardest hit, with 40 jobs at the 172-strong workshops facing the axe. Thirty jobs are earmarked to be cut at the Woburn workshop in Lower Hutt and its design team in Wellington.

The RMTU blames proposed job losses on KiwiRail's decision to outsource manufacturing contracts worth more than $500 million to Chinese firms.

The decision to picket the first delivery of the wagons - about 365 more have been commissioned from China - was about sending a message to "the company and the Government" that New Zealand workers "deserve a fair go", Mr Wilkinson said.

Shipping schedules, which he admitted could be "fickle", indicate the consignment of wagons is due in Tauranga on July 14, after the carrying vessel has visited Auckland, Wellington, and Port Chalmers, Mr Wilkinson said.

RMTU Hillside organiser John Kerr, who was at the Tauranga meeting yesterday, said there was more detail to be worked through regarding union actions once the vessel reached New Zealand ports.

Picketing the consignment was a valid action, which was "not unreasonable", despite ongoing consultations with KiwiRail bosses about the 40 job cuts at Hillside, Mr Kerr said.

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