Unions involved in the Interislander pay saga have agreed to enter mediation as the threat of a pre-Christmas strike starts to take its toll on ferry bookings.
Representatives from the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association (AMEA) and the NZ Merchant Service Guild (MSG) are meeting with KiwiRail in Wellington today in the hope of nutting out a deal over service pay.
The unions have threatened to strike for a week from December 1 if a deal cannot be reached. They represent 70 engineering officers and 54 deck officers.
If they were to strike, all Interislander sailings between Wellington and Picton would be suspended.
KiwiRail predicts about 14,000 passengers, 4000 cars, 2400 rail wagons and a similar number of trucks would be disrupted.
Chief executive Jim Quinn said the Interislander had seen a significant number of cancellations and refunds since the strike action was announced a week ago.
There had also been little booking activity for the proposed week of the strike.
He declined to give specific details of how this had impacted KiwiRail financially, citing commercial sensitivity, but said the business could be damaged in the short and medium term.
''We are disappointed that while this is going on we can't give our customers any certainty about sailings on the days of the proposed strike.''
The unions have been negotiating collective employment agreements since February, but recently drew a line in the sand over KiwiRail's desire to trim payments for long service.
Strike notices were issued last Friday. KiwiRail then returned fire with lock-out notices, as the union members had intended to remain on board the ships to keep them safe during the strike, and therefore still be paid.
Quinn said mediation was a step in the right direction as the pay talks would only be solved by working together.
Interislander was still working through options of what to do with on-board and terminal staff who were not involved in the industrial action, should a strike eventuate, he said.
''Shipboard staff may not be able to remain on board if engineers shut down all the systems. We hope this will be avoided by settlement before December 1.''
- The Dominion Post