“I think the community has every right to feel pretty unhappy … I think the timing is cruel,” he said.
“I don’t know why you would pick such a period to call such action when everybody else is pulling together as a community to try and assist in the recovery efforts that relate to our bushfires and the recovery efforts that relate to our tourism industry.”
Yarra Trams chief executive Julien Dehornoy said on Friday that he was working with the Transport Department and the Australian Open to reduce the impact of the strike.
“An action during the Australian Open is obviously designed at hurting the people and causing pain,” Mr Dehornoy said.
“It’s totally unnecessary at this stage of the negotiations … We share the frustrations of our passengers and fellow Melburnians.”
Yarra Trams will announce details next week of alternative transport on the two strike days, with shuttle buses from the CBD being considered as an option.
Mr Dehornoy said he was confident there could be a resolution, but if the strikes went ahead, he recommended people travel to the tennis before 10am on January 28 and 30.
Mr Dehornoy said Yarra Trams had offered to meet union officials every day of next week, but said “it takes two to tango”.
RTBU secretary Luba Grigorovitch said she felt “regret” about the timing of the planned stoppages and hoped the action could be avoided.
“We regret these stoppages will coincide with the Australian Open, but we had no other option than to take the only effective industrial right workers have,” she told radio station 3AW.
“I hope that it doesn’t come to that … I would like to think that Yarra Trams actually picks up the phone and says ‘OK we’re ready to negotiate’.”
Ms Grigorovitch said the potential strike was aimed at protecting workers’ conditions and was “definitely” not solely about increased pay.
“These negotiations have been going on for nine months. We’ve been negotiating since last March and there’s simply no end in sight and it’s because Yarra Trams are dragging the chain,” she said.
The union claimed it accelerated industrial action because Yarra Trams came back from the Christmas period with the same deal that had already been voted down by members.
Yarra Trams has offered a 12 per cent raise over four years, and also wants 15 per cent of the workforce to be part-time to make the roster more flexible.
The union insists the move would strip away job security.
Union members are still seeking an annual 5 per cent raise, having backed down from the initial demand of a 6 per cent yearly raise.
Ms Grigorovitch said the RTBU had “shown as much restraint as it can” and called on the government to intervene.
Paul is a reporter for The Age.