Tram workers on track for win against Yarra Trams

September 11, 2015

Industrial action taken by tram workers has already had an impact on Yarra Trams. The company has withdrawn some of its proposals for stripping the working conditions of tram workers.

Workers have struck for four hours twice, including the most recent stoppage on September 10. Workers have also had overtime bans, the banning of short shunting — where the company stops trams before they reach the terminus — and non-uniform days.

The Herald Sun has started to attack the tram workers, the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and the rail workers who are in dispute with Metro Trains. The Herald Sun is repeating outright lies from Yarra Trams to paint a picture of privileged and greedy tram and rail workers.

The union’s tram and bus division has repeatedly tried to correct the mistruths coming from Yarra Trams, but the media rarely report the corrections.

Yarra Trams has been telling the media that tram drivers earn an average of $91,000. But Yarra Trams’ website says: “Including allowances and penalties listed above, tram drivers earn an average of between $65,000 and $75,000 a year once they are fully qualified.”

RTBU tram and bus division state secretary Phil Altieri told a mass meeting of members on September 10 that Yarra Trams is going to every depot saying that a 13% pay rise over four years is a generous offer. “We’re talking about a company in growth.

“[Yarra Trams’] revenue is increasing. What they have to do is share that money with you. Yarra Trams can afford to give you a decent wage increase.”

Yarra Trams agreed to give the union an improved offer at negotiations on September 7. The union turned up at negotiations the following day and was presented with almost the same offer.

When negotiations began, Yarra Trams proposed a major attack on working conditions — stripping away accumulated sick leave and penalty rates and the imposition of a 14-day roster.

Altieri said that on the same day that the ballot for industrial action was being held, Yarra Trams took some of these attacks off the table.

Altieri conceded that Yarra Trams had put some improvements on the table — improved bereavement leave, maternity leave, paternity leave and trauma leave. He said that these improvements “are important, but the things that matter are the things we have to fight for”.

Yarra Tams had intended to strip away the disciplinary counselling policy and appeals processes. Altieri said that these conditions were only back in the agreement “because of our industrial action”.

“We’ll keep taking industrial action until we get a deal,” he said

It was only after the first four-hour strike that Yarra Trams took the 14-day roster off the table. Workers feared the 14-day roster would mean reduced wages.

However, Altieri said “not all of the conditions have been fixed yet”. Outstanding issues involving rostering guidelines are the biggest issue for tram drivers. The union wants certainty about rosters and how much notice Yarra Trams has to give workers about a change in their roster.

The company wants to be able to use supplementary labour whenever it chooses. The union understands that supplementary labour is needed for big events but it wants Yarra Trams to consult with and get the consent of the union before employing supplementary labour.

There’s also Homesafe, a 24-hour public transport service on Friday and Saturday nights that is to be introduced from January 1. “We need to be properly remunerated and we need a clause in our enterprise agreement” setting out working conditions around Homesafe, said Altieri.

The RTBU has applied to the Fair Work Commission for an extension of time to use the 24-hour stoppage. The union has not decided to call a 24-hour strike but wants to keep that option open in case Yarra Trams digs in on the pay rise and the remaining working conditions. The rail division of the RTBU has also applied for an extension of time to use its industrial action.

“When these companies treat us with contempt, we will stand up and fight,” said Altieri.

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