BY ERICA HAINES
ADELAIDE — TransAdelaide rail maintenance workers are the latest casualties of the South Australian Liberal government's privatisation steam train. As the April 23 deadline for the privatisation of TransAdelaide's bus services approaches, another 140 workers faced uncertainty after the $7 million rail maintenance contract was handed to a private company.
On March 16, members of four unions covering the workers united in a lightning strike and picketed four train-holding yards from 4.30am to 8.30am, preventing trains leaving as scheduled and affecting 8000 commuters.
TransAdelaide management had failed to address workers' concerns that the new tenderer, A. Goninan and Co., would honour existing pay and conditions. Goninan, a subsidiary of Perth company United Group, has been awarded the contract for three years, with options for a further eight years.
The dispute has now been resolved after negotiations in the Industrial Relations Commission.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) secretary Ray Hancox told Green Left Weekly that rail maintenance workers will now be entitled to the same redeployment conditions extended to the company's bus drivers, guaranteeing them redeployment within the public service, and will remain within the terms of the current certified agreement until March 31, 2001.
However, while some of the rail maintenance workers may be re-employed by the new operator, the company is refusing to enter into negotiations about workers' wages and conditions with any of the unions involved.
Meanwhile, TransAdelaide's 1200 bus drivers face an even more uncertain future when private firms take over bus services on April 23. They also have been promised employment with the new operators, but 550 have no positions to go to and 137 have already accepted redundancy payouts.
One private contractor, Serco, is employing accredited, experienced TransAdelaide drivers on traineeships, which are partially funded by the federal government. The two-year traineeships enable the workers to obtain higher qualifications but their base wage will be immediately reduced by $100.
A Federal Court battle between the RTBU and the state government regarding whether the new operators have to respect the existing certified agreement will commence on April 18.