Union lowers pay claim

By SAMANTHA TURNBULL

PAY was not the only issue up for debate at a meeting between Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew members and management yesterday.

Australian Workers Union spokesman David Lyons claimed the helicopter's seven-person crew was locked out of pay negotiations for the first two hours of a meeting at the Lismore helibase yesterday morning.

"They flew a solicitor up from Newcastle to conduct the negotiations and we couldn't even get over the stumbling block of letting the crew in," he said.

"The company said they would pay for two employees to be present, but we thought all seven should be allowed to attend the meeting because the agreement is only binding on the seven unrepresented individuals."

Eventually, the entire crew was permitted inside, but Westpac Rescue Helicopter general manager Perry Wells said Mr Lyon's claims were wrong.

"The company's lawyers contacted the union and offered for two employee representatives to attend negotiations with the union and the company on a paid basis," he said.

"The union and employees sought to have all employees present ? there was no 'lock out' as alleged by the union."

No decisions were made on whether to offer the Northern Region crew a pay rise, but further meetings will be scheduled.

According to the AWU, the local crew are paid almost 30 per cent less than those in other regions including the Hunter and Southern parts of NSW.

Mr Lyons said the crew had lowered its original calls for a 25-30 per cent pay rise to an increase of about 20 per cent.

"We'll still be on a lower rate than the Hunter, but the crew are prepared to accept that," he said.

"We hope they seriously consider our reduced claim."

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