Bluebridge benefits from unrest

The Bluebridge Cook Strait ferry service says it has noticed a boost in passenger and freight inquiries as competitor Interislander faces strike action by some crew early next month.

KiwiRail issued lockout notices to members of both the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association and the New Zealand Merchant Service Guild on Friday in response to the unions issuing strike notices for a week starting on December 1.

The strike is expected to affect thousands of Interislander ferry passengers and freight companies.

KiwiRail, which owns Interislander, estimates the action will affect about 14,000 passengers and 4000 cars. About 1200 rail wagons and a similar number of trucks will also be delayed.

A spokeswoman for Strait Shipping, which owns and operates the Bluebridge service between Wellington and Picton, said Interislander's proposed lockout was boosting passenger and freight numbers during the lockout period.

"We're experiencing a greater than usual number of inquiries."

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said the company had not yet decided what to do about ferry staff not involved in the dispute.

"Interislander is still working through the options of what will be done with onboard and terminal staff who are not involved in the industrial action, should a strike eventuate and a lockout does occur.

"The labour dispute is still subject to mediation and Interislander is working towards a quick and positive resolution," he said.

"As a precautionary measure, customers have been notified that potential industrial action may affect sailings [during the lockout]. Customers are able to change or cancel bookings for travel during this period."

The two unions, representing 54 deck officers and 70 engineers, have been negotiating collective employment contracts with KiwiRail since March.

The lockout notice was in response to the guild's expectation that crew would refuse to sail ships during the strike, but would remain on board and therefore still get paid, Mr Quinn said.

"The notice stipulates that if our ships do not sail during this time, members of [the unions] will not receive their normal pay."

The Marlborough Express