By Dick Nichols
SYDNEY — Has the State Rail Authority here reached the point of outright sacking of its workers? This would seem to be the message of moves to eliminate 600 cleaning positions prior to privatising all cleaning work on Sydney's metropolitan trains.
Up till now the SRA has achieved staff reductions of over 10,000 by "natural attrition" and voluntary redundancies. But the recession has made workers more reluctant to take the golden handshake, and last week SRA officials were pressuring cleaners to sign "voluntary" redundancy agreements, saying that everything had been OKed with the Australian Railways Union.
According to ARU organiser Andrew Baker, this was "a blatant lie", designed to demoralise and confuse the cleaners, many of whom are migrant women.
Cleaners at Sydney Central have also been told that the time for voluntary redundancies has come. When they approached ARU delegates, they were informed that they had brought the matter on their own heads by agreeing to voluntary redundancies in the first place.
Cleaners who spoke to Green Left Weekly said that the workers were angry at the implied threat of sackings as well as the measly offer of two weeks' pay for every year of service, up to 26 weeks. The fact that the SRA waited for the depth of recession to restructure its cleaning operations is not lost on the cleaners.
Many of the cleaners have been with the railways for over 10 years, and their chances of finding another job are negligible.
Their most likely new line of employment would be with the new, private cleaning contractors — on 60% of their present pay! (Private canteen staff on contract to the SRA presently receive $6.70 an hour with no holiday or sick pay or penalty rates.)
According to Baker, rail services could be brought to a halt unless the planned sackings are cancelled. A mass meeting of cleaners is planned.