After a huge amount of political pressure from the Victorian government, the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) agreed to postpone its August 21 tram and train strike, and Metro Rail and Yarra Trams agreed to return to the negotiating table.
Had the strike gone ahead it would have been the first such strike in 18 years.
RTBU members were clearly fed up with their respective train and tram companies, with 98% of railway workers and 99.4% of tram workers who returned ballots voting for industrial action.
Despite the postponement of the strike, rail and tram workers still rallied, with the support of other unions.
RTBU Victorian secretary Luba Grigorovitch told the rally that the union had been trying to negotiate with Metro Rail for five months. The enterprise agreement ran out on June 30 without Metro Rail putting any offers on the table.
Grigorovitch said that Metro “threatened our members, threatened to stand them down. When Metro didn't get their way, they boycotted negotiations. They've taken us to court and tried to stop our members taking their legal right of protected industrial action.
“In the end they offered a little more money. But I've got news for them. It's not about the money it's about the working conditions. Conditions like the length of the working day, overtime, penalty rates, rostering arrangements.
Grigorovitch pointed out that Metro’s profits have risen more than 45% over the past three years, yet Metro is not prepared to make a reasonable offer to its staff.
The RTBU demanded an acceptable offer from Metro Trains by 5pm on August 21 and “if the offer isn't any good, we'll reject it,” said Grigorovitch.
Phil Altieri, RTBU Tram and Bus division Victorian secretary was scathing about Yarra Trams at the rally. “This company is no good for trams — it screws workers and it isn't maintaining the stock,” he said.
“During these negotiations they've painted a picture of our members as greedy and selfish and the media has helped them out by saying that tram drivers earn $91,000.
“Yarra Trams’ own website says tram drivers earn about $70,000 a year. Where do they get $91,000 from? They pick that 1% of tram drivers who work six days a week, work weekends, work broken shifts work late at night and spend no time with their families.
Altieri told the rally that tram workers “have banned overtime today [August 21] so there will be a major problem when it comes to special events tonight. If we don't get a fair and reasonable deal by next Thursday, that 4-hour stoppage will go ahead.”
At a members’ meeting just before the rally, a motion was passed to strike if the offer was unacceptable.