Mediation between KiwiRail's Interislander ferry business and two unions has begun as a strike capable of disrupting the national supply chain and the plans of thousands of holiday makers looms.
Ahead of the talks starting on Friday morning the company said a strike planned between December 1 and December 8 by members of the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association (AMEA) and Merchant Services Guild (MSG) would halt all Interislander ferry sailings on the Cook Strait at the busiest time of the year.
AMEA national industrial organiser Stan Renwick told NZ Newswire on Friday that there was a lot in dispute.
Some of his members were facing a 29 percent pay cut because of proposed changes to conditions and the loss of service pay.
"The employers are basically telling us they can't afford to make any pay increases," he said.
A settlement negotiated earlier was recommended by the unions but members rejected it.
AMEA represents 70 engineering officers and MSG represents 54 deck officers.
KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said on Thursday that the strike would have a severe impact on New Zealand's supply chain at a vital time.
"If the strike proceeds it will affect about 14,000 passengers and 4000 cars. About 1200 rail wagons and a similar number of trucks will also be disrupted," Mr Quinn said.
Mainfreight managing director Don Braid has called the strike notice a selfish and "bloody disruptive" act by unions.
"What disappoints us the most is there has been so much effort gone into getting rail back up and running in the last few years under this new ownership that the government has. Not only KiwiRail, ourselves and a lot of other customers have put a lot of effort into working on rail.
"We are moving more freight than we have ever before on rail and we have the support of our customers," he said.
"And here we have the unions taking us back to the 1980s."
Bluebridge ferries, owned by rival Strait Shipping, are operating.