Railway workers strike for jobs

May 6, 1998

By Tony Iltis

HOBART — A three-week strike by workers on the Emu Bay Railway in Tasmania's remote west coast, has defeated moves by the railway's new owner to sack the entire work force and contract out the jobs.

The EBR once carried passengers, serving the isolated communities of the west coast and north-west. Now the railway serves only one purpose — conveying minerals from the region's mines to the port at Burnie.

Mining company Pasminco sold EBR to Tasmania's major railway operator, the recently privatised Tasrail. It immediately moved to sack the work force and make all re-employed workers sign individual contracts. Tasrail was once the passenger and freight railway system which linked the major centres and ran Hobart's suburban services. The system was run down and passenger services ended decades before privatisation.

The EBR strike won higher redundancy packages, protected the workers' right to belong to a union and bargain collectively, and saved most of the jobs, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union official Brian Green told Green Left Weekly. Unfortunately, he said, there would still be about six redundancies.

Green attributed the success of the strike to the solidarity between the 86 railway workers and between EBR workers and the maritime workers picketing Patrick's Burnie terminal. He said that MUA picketers had helped EBR workers establish their picket. Now that they had won, Green added, the EBR workers, "like everyone else in Burnie, would be fully behind the MUA".

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