NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian announced on November 16 plans to sack albout 700 railway workers and split up RailCorp.
Green Left Weekly’s Fred Fuentes asked Socialist Alliance member and railway union activist, John Coleman about the motives behind these plans and what they will mean for Sydney’s public transport system.
The NSW government has said that the job cuts are mainly focused on cutting waste among middle-level management. Can you tell us what the cuts are really about?
The government is trying to spin it with talk of "fat cat bureaucrats" and all the rest of it, but the reality is that the railways, like government services more generally, are continually being cut back and sold off. This has nothing to do with fat cats, and everything to do with throwing safety and experience out the window.
We have already been through a process of reform under the previous Labor government which closed stations, and put station managers on a Monday to Friday roster, meaning no station managers on weekends. So jobs have already been cut down to the bone.
Now they want to institute more cuts. They want to get rid of station managers, who are very experienced and have gone through safety courses to become station managers.
In their place, they plan to bring in private contractors from outside the railways who don’t know how to run the network, and whose job we now know will be to figure out ways to further cut staff.
So it’s a double whammy: you’re not just getting rid of jobs and getting rid of expertise, you’re employing people whose sole purpose is to justify their contracts by ruthlessly cutting staff.
Then there is the issue of safety and risk related positions. This has to do with the state government dismantling the NSW Health and Safety Act, which is one of the best in the world. The act is being gradually morphed into a national health and safety act, which is far inferior to the NSW [law].
It’s ironic that they are always talking about wanting a world class railway system and world class customer service, yet here they have a world class health and safety act and they are dismantling it.
The Safety Act means that workers who are trained in safety can go and observe what goes on on a platform, and if a station gets too busy they can move in to back up those currently working on the station and ensure everyone’s safety.
Under the new regime, they will totally cut back on these safety positions. When you consider that existing station staff have already been severely cut back, or that some stations have no staff, this is going to be a big problem.
That’s the type of government we’re got at the moment, one that’s looking to shed jobs and cut corners on safety, in order to sell off our public transport cheaply.
What do you make of the decision to split RailCorp into two entities?
They are splitting up RailCorp to make smaller and smaller units so that they can privatise it.
In fact you can already see this with the North West Rail Link, which has been privatised straight out. They are saying they’re going to hand it over to private industry, which will mean we are talking about three not two entities presiding over our trains.
The push to split up and privatise Sydney’s trains follows the path of plans developed by the British as far back as the 1960s, which focused on how to cut down and cut back on railways.
It was based on ruthless privatization of the railways, but the British system fell apart and safety went out the window. This is the kind of model they want to follow.
What happened in Britain was when private companies took over, they only ran lines that were lucrative. The others were closed down and people were once again forced to use private cars.
If you look at the car itself, there are all kinds of issues such as pollution, traffic congestion and the space taken up for providing car parking areas. Yet when you turn to look at the government plans it’s obvious they are just making plans to build more roads, and increase dependency on cars.
Park-and-ride is about the only thing they talk about when it comes to railways. Yet the rational thing would be to leave the car at home and provide the public transport people need.
This government is doing the opposite: it’s trying to privatise as much public transport as possible, get private cars on the road, and put in tollways so where ever you go you pay extra. It’s a return to very old and failed models for public transit.
Related article: Sydney public transport among world’s worst.
[Green Left Weekly will be hosting a community meeting on “Better Public Transport” at Parramatta Town Hall, Church Street, Parramatta on Saturday 24 November from noon.]