Opposition parliamentarians have used a committee hearing to stoke fears that ongoing industrial action by Metro Tasmania mechanics could lead to further bus service disruptions across the state.
Opposition leader Rebecca White told a scrutiny committee hearing that the state bus company's mechanics are being paid less than the industry average, prompting industrial action from mechanics over the past few months.
"Why are they offered $10 per hour less than industry rate of pay, particularly when a third of these positions are vacant?" she asked.
"I don't know how you are going to keep the buses on the road when you don't have the mechanics."
Metro chief executive officer Katie Cooper said mechanics were provided with a 10-per-cent pay increase months ago to address recruitment issues and help existing staff.
She told the hearing that the company had seen a net loss of three mechanics over the 12 months to June 2023.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union mechanic members began taking industrial action in September, after a breakdown in negotiations for a new enterprise bargain.
They say they are paid about 10-per-cent less than the industry average, while the vacant positions add to the workload of existing staff.
Ms Cooper said the company would continue to negotiate with unions.
"Unfortunately we are still a significant difference apart with regards to the claims that are being asked for in negotiations, the pay rise is a distance apart, about 43 per cent, I think," she said.
"We would like to get to a resolution and we are continuing to negotiate in good faith with out employees and the union, but it needs to be something that is fair reasonable and affordable.
Ms White disputed that the mechanics were requesting a 43-per-cent pay rise.
"It's my understanding is that it was between 15 to 20 per cent," Ms White said.
Ms Cooper said she did not have the log of claims with her to check the union's pay demand, and would provide the answer later.
She said she was disappointed that union mechanics had opted for industrial action.
"We will work around that to do what we can to keep the business operating," she said.
She confirmed that Metro has sent purchase orders totalling over $60,000 to several external bus mechanic contractors in anticipation of needing their services, but stressed much of this has not yet been drawn down.
The company bosses later defended their use of outside mechanic contractors that the union claims are being used to mitigate the ongoing industrial action.
Metro chairman Tim Gardner said it was "prudent" for the management to seek alternatives amid ongoing stop-work action by union members to ensure minimal disruption to services.
Independent Franklin MHA David O'Byrne asked whether use of the contractors had increased safety issues on buses, after one incident in which a bus repaired by unsupervised external apprentice contractors.
"They did important work on those buses that was not checked, and that there was a period of time where there was a risk to the public," he said.
Mr Gardner initially said that the bus in question never left the depot, but he later corrected the record, saying the bus was driven on the road without being checked.
"It was subsequently reviewed and there were no safety issues, but I note it is unacceptable that that happens. It shouldn't have happened and we put in place controls after to make sure it wouldn't happen again."
Mr O'Byrne said it was "clear" that the company were unhappy with the incident that "could have caused a safety issue."
"Now this is because there is an industrial dispute occurring, this is in your hands to resolve."
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