Rail union organiser Bruce Mackie said Aurizon's decision to stop hauling Wilmar sugar was a kick in the guts for its workforce.
Rail union organiser Bruce Mackie said Aurizon's decision to stop hauling Wilmar sugar was a kick in the guts for its workforce. Campbell Gellie

More than 100 railway workers 'stood down without pay'

THE union representing rail workers has blasted BMA and Aurizon after it claimed up to 180 workers from Mackay and Sarina would be forced to take leave without pay due to several lines being out of service.

After Cyclone Debbie tore through the region, four major railway corridors were closed, with the Newlands and Goonyella lines out for repairs for up to five weeks.

About 50 workers from BMA have been stood down, while a further 130 operational staff from Aurizon have been put on forced leave.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union Queensland state president Bruce Mackie said workers would be without pay for up to three weeks or even longer after the two companies used a special Federal legislation clause.

"There's a special clause in the Fair Work Act which allows companies to stand down an employee when there's a breakdown and the employer isn't responsible," Mr Mackie said.

"Usually it's used for maintenance work and workers are given months of notice, but in this case some were given a day or less.

"They're trying to hide behind a clause which it wasn't intended for."

He said employees had been given an option to use holiday pay, but the companies are pro-active in their efforts to force workers to use annual leave at other times of the year to keep numbers down.

Mr Mackie will be having further meetings with workers on Friday to assess the situation and support the union's members.

On Tuesday, Aurizon announced train drivers and other employees in Rockhampton, Stanwell and Callemondah had been helping with recovery efforts.

Aurizon vice president operations Central Queensland Peter Cowan said there was a long tradition of Aurizon and its employees helping the community during natural disasters.

"While we have mobilised all infrastructure crews for recovery work, train drivers and other employees have capacity at the moment to help with community efforts," Mr Cowan said.

"Aurizon employees live and work in these local communities affected by flooding, and it's important we roll up our sleeves to help with flood preparation and recovery.

"There's an extraordinary amount of community spirit, and when people are faced with these types of events we all pitch in to do what we can to protect property and community assets."

On Thursday Aurizon also announced it would make grants up to $20,000 available to assist community groups with recovery.

BHP Billiton triggered force majeure on Wednesday for all their coal operations affected by Cyclone Debbie. This means a 'superior force' was responsible for the damage and the company cannot be held responsible for consequences.

On Monday BHP acknowledged part of Aurizon's rail network was down and while it committed to manage ongoing access to ports and shipments to customers, failed to confirm how much of its workforce had returned to work.

Mr Mackie was critical of the large companies at this period and said if small businesses can support workers during the recovery period, so too should BMA and Aurizon.

"I know a lot of people are doing it hard, but if big companies like BMA don't do their bit, keep paying their staff and allow them to get on with flood recovery efforts, then who is going to have money in their pocket to keep the local economy rolling?"

BMA and Aurizon have been contacted for comment.



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