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Pacific National Announces Plans to Dump Tasmanian Intermodal Services – Leading30 September 2005
Pacific National (PNL), Australia’s major private freight rail operator has announced its intention to abandon its Tasmanian intermodal freight operations if it cannot secure massive welfare subsidies from the Government.
The announcement was made public through a recent media release, without the company even bothering to discuss the future of the operations with its 200 employees or their union. If Pacific National proceeds with this threatened shut down, it will directly affect almost eighty percent of its 200 rail workforce, as well as a range of other industries and their employees. The loss of these jobs in a state with high unemployment and limited employment opportunities for older workers, would be devastating both directly and indirectly.
This way of doing business has become all too common in the rail industry in recent years, and for Tasmania would result in a massive and brutal assault on significant public infrastructure that has been allowed to deteriorate over the past decade or more. It would also have a flow-on effect to the overall economy of Tasmania, and have a major social and environmental impact if these freight services are moved onto road transport. These other transport services, not surprisingly, are dominated by the Patrick and Toll, and would result in no loss of overall business for these operators.
Pacific National (jointly owned by Patrick & Toll Holdings) purchased the Tasmanian operations from ATN in 2004 for $40m. A year later it is asking the government to contribute up to $100 million over ten years to subsidise the business or risk seeing it dismantled. It is hard not to be cynical about the motives of this business decision and any due diligence carried out before the purchase. It would also be a shameful act by the company if it was deliberately using its employees as a bargaining tool in any negotiations with government. The announced plans to pull-out of intermodal operations in Tasmania (including major paper mill operations), is a disgraceful example of corporate welfarism, where the company expects the public purse to pay for 100% of its business shortcomings and failings.
While it is not unreasonable to expect government to meet some level of public funding commitment to overall infrastructure maintenance and development, it is a shared responsibility. In this announced plan, there is no sense of responsibility by PNL as a corporate citizen in these grabs for public funds. If they don't get the subsidies they will simply attempt to gut the local industry and dump its workers on the unemployment queue. This decision will impact most harshly on the majority of rail workers and their families in Tasmania.
The Rail Tram & Bus Union and its members in Tasmania and around the country have expressed their outrage at the announcement by Pacific National, and the potential effects it will have on hundreds of rail workers, their families and their local communities in Tasmania. National RTBU Secretary, Robert Hayden responded to the public announcement by stating that "the RTBU is outraged by Pacific National's decision. They want to be able to pick the eyes out of the rail industry, keeping only the most lucrative components and give nothing back to the community. They take no responsibility for the affect of their business decisions on local economies or the people hurt by their actions." Mr Hayden went on to assure RTBU members, that "the RTBU will fight any attempt at this scorched earth approach to rail in Tasmania. We will do everything within our power to protect the jobs of rail workers, and to secure the future of the industry in Tasmania."
The RTBU will be organising urgent meetings with PNL, and both State and Federal governments to ensure that this vital infrastructure and the jobs that rely on it are protected and maintained into the future. The union's focus will be to investigate options and strategies that will secure and improve the industry in Tasmania, rather than the company's announced recklessness. It is essential for the future of the rail industry in Tasmania that there is serious investigation into appropriate investment and funding of rail infrastructure, corporate responsibility and accountability, an integrated approach to transport in the state, and the future of work in the rail industry.