Rail union calls stop work after negotiations fail

The chaos caused by a timetable change without enough train drivers is symptomatic of how out of touch the NSW government really is.

Rail workers will stop work for 24 hours on January 29 to push management to negotiate a fair enterprise agreement. The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) said on January 16 that the government and management had left them no choice but to take this kind of action.

RTBU NSW secretary Alex Claassens said there is never an ideal time to stop work, but “workers can’t sit back and let their wages and conditions, and our transport system, be attacked any longer”. Claassens added the union has been trying to negotiate a new agreement on basic safety conditions and pay for well over six months.

He said commuters understand that NSW transport minister Andrew Constance and Sydney and NSW Trains management are ultimately responsible for this action. “They could put a stop to this anytime, simply by coming back to the negotiating table with a fair agreement,” Claassens said.

“Workers are being stretched to capacity trying to deliver the shambolic new timetable, and now on top of all this they’re being told they can’t be guaranteed fair conditions or pay.”

The ABC spoke to Van Cremer, a train driver of 25 years’ experience, who said drivers were suffering major fatigue. He said he had worked the previous Monday for almost 10.5 hours with only one break.

“In an emergency you may do over 10 hours, but that seems to be happening more regularly now,” he said. “It knocks you around because we're supposed to have 11 hours between shifts.”

“The timetable is doable if we have enough drivers but they're giving us very tight margins to get to the next train — sometimes six minutes,” he said.

“It puts us under pressure. Pressure can often lead to mistakes, it leads to errors like going past signals, overshooting platforms, things like that which we get punished for.”

Cremer said he supported more services but that the new timetable — which includes extra train services — was bought in too early before there were enough drivers to run the schedule. The NSW government introduced the new timetable last November. It now says it has 160 new drivers in training.

The 24-hour stop work follows the announcement of two other forms of action: the display of union and industrial materials and a ban on overtime.

The union is claiming a 6% pay rise and better working conditions, including improvements on rosters and arrangements for days off. The NSW government has refused to budge on a 2.5% wage increase for public servants.

The chaos on Sydney’s rail network, which has left thousands stranded by delays and service cancellations, is directly related to the lack of drivers.

Constance has hit back at the union, claiming its industrial campaign for a pay rise was “cynical”.

One Sydney train driver said on social media that Constance’s claim that the train drivers are greedy is completely untrue.

“The facts, simply, are that train drivers in Sydney are the most qualified drivers in Australia, working on the largest network in Australia, and are the lowest paid in Australia.

“In fact, the 6% the drivers are asking for still wouldn’t put them in the same league as Queensland or Melbourne, both of which are actively recruiting.

“To hear the transport minister speak with such contempt, or at least insinuate it, is nothing short of disrespectful to the men and women who, when incidents occur, put their lives on hold so you can get home.”

[The RTBU is one of the supporting organisations of a Fix NSW Transport rally on Saturday February 17 at 2pm at Hyde Park North. The protest will march to Martin Place. See the FB event here for details.]

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.