The union representing striking train technicians in Auckland says inspections and maintenance will be starting to pile up, with commuters impacted "by the end of the week".
The Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) initiated an industrial dispute this week against Spanish employer Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), with the company immediately suspending the 26 unionised maintenance workers out of a total pool of 29.
RMTU organiser Rudd Hughes today confirmed the union are seeking a pay increase of 13 per cent over two years to put them on what they understand Kiwirail maintenance workers are paid.
Mr Hughes said the final offer from CAF after five meetings was a 5.5 per cent increase over two years.
He said inspections and maintenance work will be beginning to backlog, and that it was unlikely CAF would be able to find and employ replacement workers due to the processes and skill shortage involved.
"They also, legally, they can't do that - so we're not worried about that," Mr Hughes said.
"The thing is - these guys don't grow on trees - they're incredibly skillful."
The workers involved are responsible for checking Auckland's 72 electric trains every 10,000 kilometres, including interior, power systems, engines and brakes, as well as carrying out repairs and maintenance as required.
Mr Hughes said drivers will now be booking in maintenance and noticing delays with only three workers left to service the trains, and that those drivers, most of which are RMTU members also, will not allow trains to be put back into service unless the maintenance is carried out to an acceptable standard.
"They'll be making sure that if the trains aren't pristine they're not going out ... if its not done to the drivers' standard they want, then there's just no chance," he said.
In terms of disruption to train services, Mr Hughes says the RMTU doesn't want that - they had initially planned a limited strike which would have offered very little disruption, but CAF had immediately suspended all striking members completely.
"It's outrageous - it's a complete overreaction," Mr Hughes said.
"When we've been to the table, we've said 'is it a money problem?' - they said no, it's not about affordability - so it's about ideology and maintaining the CAF model that they use in every workplace."
Mr Hughes said he believes CAF may fear setting a precedent or encouraging workers in other countries to stand up for better pay and conditions.
He said the union would like to see Auckland Transport (AT), which employed CAF through a tender to maintain the trains, tell them to "pull their head in and pay a decent wage".
"I think they should be looking after the people that actually make the network run," he said.
Mr Hughes said more negotiations between RMTU and CAF are due to take place on Monday next week, but that they would be willing to re-negotiate sooner if CAF "show some goodwill around it".
"We certainly hope we're going to see some movement from them ... we want to get our guys back to work because they can't survive for too long with no money."
AT SAYS NO PROBLEMS FOR NOW WHILE CAF SAYS THEY ARE WITHIN LAW
A spokesperson for AT said "the dispute is between CAF and the RMTU - AT does not have a role in any mediation between these parties.
"Safety inspections are being carried out by non-union staff.
"We would not run trains if they were not safe and the regulator NZTA would not let that happen.
"No train services have been disrupted and we don't expect any issues in the short term.
"Our contingency plan, if needed in future days, is that some trains may only have three carriages rather than six carriages during peak times.
"Some services may also be cancelled on an ad hoc basis depending on the availability of trains.
"We don't know when that contingency may be needed."
CAF said in a statement that they are "fully committed to providing train availability for the Auckland public during this RMTU initiated industrial action".
"Negotiations had been planned for Monday 13 May, and also Monday 20 May, before the announcement of any strike action.
"During those negotiations on 13 May, CAF advised RMTU negotiators of their right, under section 87 of the Employment Relations Act, that staff members could be suspended from duty on the basis that CAF cannot continue to pay employees who are on strike and only undertaking part of their duties while receiving full pay.
"The RMTU statement on 13 May is incorrect, in that no member of staff has been, or would be 'locked-out' - where an employee chooses to undertake full duties for full pay, those employees will be permitted to continue their work, hence employees are not being locked out.
"CAF will discuss the suspension arrangements with individual employees as they arrive for work."