Rail workers strike for better pay


By Martin Schenke

BRISBANE — Railway workers have won some concessions from the state government after they went on strike for 24 hours on February 9. The 14,600 rail workers walked off the job after their demand for a pay rise of 12% over two years was rejected by Queensland Rail.

Under intense pressure from government, the railway unions on February 10 accepted a 6.5% pay increase backdated to January and a further increase of 3% next year. They also escaped retribution for breaching industrial relations laws.

Queensland Rail had offered the unions a 6.5% rise. Management also threatened the unions with legal action after they failed to give three days' notice before the strike and then ignored an order to return to work.

Labor Premier Peter Beattie joined in the chorus of condemnation, arguing that the unions had breached his government's industrial relations law. He accused the unions of "bloody mindedness" and said, "No legislation, outside of the use of troops akin to Nazi Germany" could have stopped the strike.

"All this strike does is hurt other workers, damage the economy and destroy jobs, and they should go back to work", Beattie said on February 9. He described the strike as resembling "the industrial relations world of 30 years ago".

Beattie should know. In 1981, as state secretary of the Queensland Railway Station Officers Union, he led a strike for a shorter working week and "service incremental payments". Now that he's premier, Beattie seeks to diffuse industrial actions, in this case by threatening railway workers.

On February 11, Beattie claimed a victory. "Our industrial relations laws work, and this was over in a day and a half", he said.