Victorian transport workers to strike


By Bronwen Beechey

MELBOURNE — Tram, train and bus workers employed by the Public Transport Corporation will hold a 24-hour strike from midnight on July 28. The action will protest against the state government's persistent refusal to grant a wage rise, adequate redundancy provisions and protection of jobs and conditions before the privatisation of PTC services next year.

The Public Transport Union has already instituted a work-to-rule and placed bans on running and maintenance of defective vehicles, and non-cooperation bans on automatic ticketing. According to the PTU, rolling stoppages are also likely if agreement is not reached soon.

The dispute has been going on since March, when negotiations for a new enterprise agreement broke down and transport workers held a 48-hour strike over the weekend of the Grand Prix. This prompted the Kennett government to announce that, contrary to its election promises, the public transport system would be sold off by the end of 1998.

The PTU's position was that, while it opposed privatisation in principle, it could not fight it without massive community support and could only negotiate the best possible deal for its members before the sell-off took place.

The PTU and the government have reached agreement on the transfer of superannuation and other entitlements, but transport minister Robin Cooper is refusing to negotiate over wages and redundancy.

The PTU has called for a 10% wage rise, but has said it will accept 6% with no trade-offs. Cooper has said that he will grant only a 6% rise for 6% "efficiency savings", delivered through fewer penalty and meal allowances; longer working hours; cuts to holiday pay, sick leave and training leave; and reduced staffing levels.

He is also demanding that redundancy pay be "capped" at 10 years' service, which would limit the pay-out to most PTC staff to 20 weeks' pay. The PTU wants an uncapped redundancy package, which is what has been paid to former State Electricity Commission, Board of Works, port, local government and water board workers.

On July 23, Cooper made his "final offer" to the PTU — productivity trade-offs for the 6%, but with the exclusion of 2500 tram and bus employees from these trade-offs. PTU secretary Peter Bourke described the offer as "a mischievous act designed to try to split our members".

Bourke said that the strike had been timed so that the weekend's AFL football and Bledisloe Cup would not be disrupted, and to enable commuters to make alternative arrangements.

Union activists say that while the majority of PTU members support the action, there is a strong feeling that it will take a lot more than a 24-hour stoppage to win.

There is also widespread cynicism among the workers because the PTU leadership has consistently capitulated to Kennett. In particular, the workers remember the tramways division leadership's agreement to the phasing out of conductors and the introduction of automatic ticketing.

"The union has already given away so much that this action could be too little, too late70>, one tram worker said.>41559MS>n255D>