The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) condemned the New South Wales government’s unilateral shut-down of the Sydney train network on February 21 and its attempt to blame the union for the ensuing chaos.
Following a successful union messaging campaign to explain that the union was not on strike and that rail workers were ready and willing to start work, Premier Dominic Perrottet and Transport Minister David Elliot withdrew their case against the union in the Fair Work Commission (FWC).
RTBU NSW secretary Alex Claassens said on February 21 that the shutdown was “a huge dummy spit” by the NSW government, supported by their federal counterparts. Prime Minister Scott Morrison accused the union of “pulling the rug” out from under the Sydney public.
The RTBU has been campaigning for a new enterprise agreement, since the previous agreement expired mid-last year. Because the government is refusing to come to the table, it has been waging an industrial campaign during its official bargaining period.
“We have said all along that the NSW government could run services with our bans in place, and we are pleased that they have finally listened. Services may be disjointed, but at least there will be trains moving again,” said Claassens.
He said the government’s treatment of commuters and NSW rail workers “has been appalling for a long time”. Bringing in expensive lawyers “in a bid to silence workers and then shutting down the whole rail network and inconveniencing commuters was a whole new low”, he added.
Claassens said workers would resume their protected industrial action and that the union was “always willing to work with the NSW government if it means reaching an agreement to keep our railways safe and moving”.
Privatisation is a key sticking point. The union wants a government commitment that no train services, or lines, will be lost. It also wants a guarantee that any changes to services will leave workers “as safe or safer”. It also wants a commitment to maintaining a high standard of hygiene, with cleaners on “good, full time jobs”.
One rank-and-file Sydney rail worker told Green Left that they were not surprised that the government “would go down to this level of calling us ‘terrorists’, trying to smear the workforce and the unions.
“We are angry,” they continued, “but there is a great feeling of solidarity among the workers. We are confident of public support for our campaign, which we are all determined to see through.”
The government withdrew its FWC application on February 22 after the union called on it to reveal the “risk assessment” its shutdown of the rail network was allegedly based on.
“The government, after initially smearing us in the media, came out yesterday and said that our action banning altered working for Train Crew posed a safety risk to the rail network,” the RTBU said on February 22. The government tried to justify its position with a “risk assessment” performed in the dead of the night in the early hours of Monday morning, the union told its members.
“It is clear to everyone that the shutting of the rail network on Monday was a brazen stunt and an attempt to strip our hard-fought conditions by using the unfair industrial relations laws in our country against us. There was never any real safety concern,” the union said.