NSW rail unions fight for conditions

October 4, 2021
Photo: Rail, Tram & Bus Union/Facebook

The Combined Rail Unions (CRU) and the Rail, Tram & Bus Union (RTBU) are continuing protected industrial action in New South Wales as negotiations for a new NSW Trains and Sydney Trains enterprise agreement (EA) break down.

The unions’ industrial action was precipitated by the stubborn Sydney and NSW Trains management, which wants the unions to agree to a rollover of the EA for six months. This would mean workers accepting a 0.3% pay rise and 2.5% thereafter.

The unions are demanding a 3.5% pay rise. Management has refused to meet with delegates to hear their log of claims and has not shown up to recent negotiations meetings.

Management wants to split Sydney Trains and NSW Trains workers and negotiate separate agreements. The unions have refused, wanting a combined EA.

Safety concerns

The unions are concerned about safety on Sydney Trains. On the new intercity fleet, platforms and doors can be monitored by the driver using CCTV cameras, allowing for the possibility of eliminating train guards.

The unions say this is unsafe and that a guard is required to monitor the platform during the train’s arrival and departure.

The unions also want to keep the boosted cleaning staff on after the COVID-19 crisis to ensure that the current high level of cleaning for passengers and workers continues.

Beginning in early September, workers have undertaken overtime bans, bans on working higher duties, work-to-rules, sit-down working and driving trains at reduced speeds.

The unions took strike action on September 28, from 9 am to 1 pm, on all rail networks. They say their hand had been forced by management's unwillingness to negotiate. The action was chosen to reduce the effect on essential workers who rely on trains to get to work.

The RTBU NSW branch held an open, online stop-work meeting during the strike, inviting workers and others to show support. Solidarity came from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NMA), Unions NSW and Professionals Australia.

Alex Claasens, RTBU NSW secretary, told the meeting about past and ongoing solidarity with other unions. Having copped criticism that a strike would affect nurses, Claasens explained that he’d talked to Brett Holmes, the general secretary of the NMA, who, he said, “knows how this works”.

“We’ve all got to stick together”, Claasens said, adding, “this is about essential workers supporting essential workers”.

Although public health orders have prevented unions from conducting public gatherings, Claasens said he was disappointed that police had nevertheless shown up to prevent any possible union rally in the city. He said the union would not defy public health orders and that it had “always stood for … safety”.

Acknowledging the “passion and dedication that the membership have always shown, and the way they will always stand up and be counted when needed”, Claasens went on to say that rail workers had “managed to keep the state moving and safe”, while taking on the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Solidarity shown

Claasens said he has received much support from the community, who “see through the bullshit” of NSW Transport Minister, Andrew Constance. The decision to strike was not taken lightly, he said, adding that workers “want to be out there doing their work”.

He said he was angry at managements refusal to negotiate, saying: “We haven’t seen sight nor sound from any of these clowns … They haven’t been treating all of us with the respect we deserve. The least they could do is come to the negotiating table and listen to what we have to say, and they’re not even doing that.

“Is it any wonder that our people get to the point where they say, ‘Enough’s enough’ and they take the action that they do?”

Claasens warned that without progress in negotiations, “any potential good will that still exists out there among our workforce will disappear out the door. We need senior managers to come to the table, we need Transport for NSW to come to the table, and we want the government to come to the table.”

Claasens said the unions are committed to fighting to maintain wages and conditions. “We are one; we stand together. We’re taking this industrial action because we’ve got to.”

The meeting passed a motion of endorsement, stating: “Our membership endorses the action taken thus far and resolves to support taking whatever future action is necessary to ensure our rights are upheld and we get the respect we deserve.”

The coming weeks will show if the strike, and the prospect of further actions, will motivate management’s willingness to negotiate.

The unions’ main EA proposals are:

• access to 26 weeks’ paid parental leave for any primary carer, regardless of gender;

• superannuation to be paid for time spent on parental leave;

• critical incident leave for all employees, including exposure to a traumatic incident or a near miss;

• remove the requirement for shift workers to provide medical certificates for sick leave that adjoin public holidays;

• carer’s leave clause to include access to leave for scheduled and elective surgery;

• expand the definition of carer’s leave, and compassionate and bereavement leave, to include “significant person”;

• 50% of sick leave balance to be paid out on resignation, retirement or termination on medical advice (compensated injury) after 10 years’ service;

• for sick leave days to count as shifts for the purpose of overtime payments;

• carer’s leave in the case of sickness in the family to be accessed without a medical certificate;

• increase “special purpose” annual leave accrual from 40 to 50 days for employees, and from 50 to 60 days for shift workers;

• annual leave loading entitlement for shift workers to include the obligation to pay 20% leave loading or normal roster with penalties, whichever is higher;

• specify that employers pay superannuation on leave loadings;

• all employees be entitled to accrue public holidays if the day falls on their rostered day off or book-off day;

• shift workers to accumulate up to 12 public holidays and any holidays thereafter will be paid out; any additional gazetted public holiday will be added to the EA;

• raise the amount of compassionate and bereavement leave to five days per occasion;

• raise accrual limit to 12 allocated days off (ADOs) in a calendar year;

• employers to not refuse reasonable requests to take blocks of ADOs; and

• recognition of service for the purpose of long service leave in like-for-like occupations, for example, same trade discipline or train driver from a different company.

[Sign a petition to the NSW government demanding it stop management from targeting rail union delegates involved in the enterprise bargaining process.]

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