NSW rail unions break through public sector pay cap

March 20, 2023
The Rail Bus and Tram Union has been campaigning for more than a year for pay rises. Graphic: Rail Bus and Tram Union/Facebook

The two unions covering rail workers in New South Wales have welcomed the federal Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) decision to grant a pay rise for rail staff over 2022–2023.

The decision takes their wage rises to 3.5% for last year and 4.5% for this year — breaking the NSW Coalition’s controversial wage cap of 3% per annum.

NSW has seen more than a year of widespread strikes and other industrial action by state public sector unions challenging the Dominic Perrottet Coalition government’s pay freeze.

The Rail Bus and Tram Union (RTBU) told its members on March 11: “Yesterday it was confirmed that you smashed the NSW government’s unfair ‘wages cap’.

“This is the same cap that has kept public sector wages unfairly suppressed for the past decade and continues to hurt our nurses, teachers, paramedics, health workers and firefighters. Members should take pride in this significant achievement.”

In addition, the RTBU said the months-long campaign had delivered a safe New Intercity Fleet and more than “90 other successful claims” as part of the Sydney and NSW Trains enterprise agreement negotiations.

After many, many months of hard-fought negotiations RTBU members forced the NSW government to deliver safe trains and decent wages and conditions.

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) told its members on March 10 that the FWC had agreed to an additional 2% wage for those working at Sydney Trains. That means that, with the backdated pay rise to May last year, new pay rises will total 7.56% over two years and come with a $4500 bonus and 0.5% annual superannuation rise.

ETU members’ new enterprise bargaining agreement includes the new Electrical Safety Allowance, that will deliver between $70 and $130 weekly, and improvements to the Living Away From Home Allowance, apprentice conditions and leave rights.

The ETU said the “good outcomes and pay rises are not freely given out by employers or governments. Improvements are won by ETU members sticking together and taking action as we did throughout this EBA campaign”.

It noted that the key reason given for the pay decision “the projected significant decline in real wages”.

“The pay rise offered by the NSW government was not fair or sufficient in a period of high inflation, exactly as the ETU argued,” it said. “Fair Work’s decision effectively condemns the Perrottet government’s wages cap which has repressed wages since 2011."

Unions NSW assistant secretary Thomas Costa said the FWC decision was a major win for rail workers. He told the ABC on March 10 that Unions NSW would encourage other public sector unions “to look at this decision closely with the view to increasing pay for all public sector workers in NSW”.

Rail workers’ wages contracts come under the federal industrial relations laws whereas most other NSW public sector unions are governed by state laws and the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to arbitrate wages.

Therefore how the rail workers’ wage gains will affect other state public sector employees is unclear.

Perrottet has defended his government’s pay cap. Labor opposition leader Chris Minns has pledged to abolish it, if elected, but would not confirm whether that would lead to wage rises for all public sector workers.

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