Independent Franklin MHA David O'Byrne has claimed that state-owned bus group Metro Tasmania has paid private contractor mechanics $160,000 over the past month as its regular mechanics engaged in industrial action to protest what they say is sub-par pay.
Metro engineering staff, including mechanics and apprentices, began taking industrial action last month as negotiations for a new enterprise bargain stretched into their ninth month with no outcome.
Mr O'Byrne said Metro's wages strategy was "deliberately disrespectful", with in-house mechanics being paid about $10 per hour less than the industry average.
"Sources suggest that Metro has invoiced $160,000 for external contracted mechanics over the last month alone, while this industrial action is taking place," he said during Question Time on Wednesday.
"Instead of paying $160,000 per month to deliberately undermine Metro's loyal and hardworking in-house mechanics, why won't you just fix the problem and pay them fairly?"
Transport Minister Michael Ferguson said it wasn't the state government's role to interfere in enterprise bargain negotiations, which are done under the auspices of federal legislation.
"I don't play a role in that Mr O'Byrne, and you know that," he said, and accused Mr O'Byrne of "playing to an audience".
"But what we are doing it providing Metro the support it needs from government ... and rewarding our employees in that state-owned company with affordable and appropriate wage increases," he said.
Mr Ferguson said he did not have a brief about the outside contractors or what they were being paid.
But Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state organiser Jacob Batt said he has confirmed that these contractors are being paid at the industry rate of pay, which he said was about $10 per hour more than what Metro mechanics are paid, on average.
Mr Batt also disputed Mr Ferguson's claim that the union negotiators were seeking a 43 per cent pay rise.
He said that percentage figure distorted the picture, and that mechanics were seeking an increase in the rate of pay phased in across a number of years.
He said the "catchup pay" announced by Metro would still leave mechanics paid, on average, paid about $10 per hour less than the industry average rate.
He confirmed that most of Launceston's Metro mechanics had travelled to Hobart for the industrial action today, leaving no in-house mechanics in the depot there.
Metro may have brought in contractors to cover the absence, he said.
He did not describe the contractors as a "strike-breaking" force, but was critical of the decision to use them.
"We would say this is a underhanded ploy by Metro to try to break the morale, but as you can see, Metro mechanics are strong," he said.
"The public need to have this public transport sorted, they need Metro fixed, and the only way to fix Metro is to pay these industry rates of pay - which the contractors are already receiving."
Metro Tasmania has been contacted for comment.
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