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Issue #1902      February 10, 2020


On the 30th January, the Australian Rail Tram and Bus Industry Union (RTBU) organised a strike for all tram drivers employed by Yarra Trams between 10 am and 2 pm. At the same time, another rally was organised at 12 pm at Flinders St Station to get word out to the public about the ongoing industrial action against Yarra Trams. This rally was attended by members of the CPA Melbourne branch to express solidarity with members of the Tram and Bus Division of RTBU Victoria.

Kathryn Breakwell RTBU Women’s Officer addresses the crowd.

The rally and strike went ahead after Yarra Trams refused to meet with the union the day before. Yarra Trams not only refused to meet with the union, they also tried to stop the strike by claiming it was unprotected industrial action. The rally was attended by other militant unions including maritime, plumbers, transport workers, construction, health and community services, and united workers unions.

The main motive behind industrial action was to stand against Yarra Trams’ part-time claim. This claim will force mass part-time contracts on workers by increasing part-time cap from four percent to fifteen percent of the workforce. This would include shifts for drivers as short as three hours. If the mass part time went ahead, drivers would lose $7,000 per year which would save Yarra Trams $9.69 million per year. The part-time claim would be particularly bad for new drivers who have to do a minimum of 2,080 hours of work on the job before considered qualified. The current dispute with the privatised Yarra Trams has been going on for ten months. The last EBA with Yarra Trams expired eight months ago.

The push for part time is not a new development. A similar ordeal has been unfolding between the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) and Jetstar. Similar to Yarra Trams, Jetstar has been attempting to push its workers onto part time hours. Currently Jetstar workers are making as little as $429 per week. Jetstar’s insecure work resulted in planned Christmas strikes and the cancellation of numerous Jetstar flights. The Christmas strikes, however, did not go ahead and Jetstar and TWU are now currently negotiating their demands. TWU’s demands are a four percent wage increase for baggage handlers and ground staff, at least twelve hours between shifts, and a minimum of thirty hours of guaranteed work. The links between the struggle against Yarra Trams and Jetstar were emphasised throughout the rally, and the Victorian/Tasmanian National President of TWU, John Berger, spoke at the rally to express solidarity from TWU to RTBU.

Yarra Trams are also trying to manipulate their women workers into supporting their mass part-time claim. They say that the claim would benefit women because they would have more time at home to raise their children. This is a disgusting attempt to divide the workers and patronise women of the RTBU who know that parental leave is already covered under Fair Work. Kathryn Breakwell, the RTBU Women’s Officer, described Yarra Trams proposition for women as “pocket money jobs” where women workers are primarily seen as mothers who need a little extra cash for their families. She also mentioned how Yarra Trams has been reluctant in RTBU Women’s fight for protections against sexual harassment and sexual violence.


Throughout the rally, there were various appeals made to the Victorian Labor government. Kathryn Breakwell asked where the “blue-collared government” they had voted for were whenever workers needed their support. Premier Daniel Andrews and Transport Minister Melissa Horne were both called on for action in the dispute. However, both have remained silent on the issue. RTBU Victoria expressed its disappointment that the Transport Minister was not standing side by side with them at the rally.

It is unsurprising that the Labor government has not come to support the workers who voted for them in their dispute with multinationals. The Daniel Andrews government has undertaken various neoliberal policies in the past decade or so. For example, in 2018 the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) fought against the privatisation of the Land Titles and Registry office that was earning $300 million per year. Treasurer Tim Pallas sold it for $2.86 billion to First State Superannuation. In 2016, the Labor government leased the Port of Melbourne to a handful of multinationals for $9.7 billion for the next fifty years.

Victorian Labor have also undertaken Public Private Partnerships such as for the $5.7 billion Victoria De-salination Plant. This deal is between the state government and multinationals Theiss, an Australian mining company, and Degrémont, owned by French company Suez. The contract runs for a total of 30 years for $1.8 million per day and a total of approximately $19 billion for Suez and Theiss when the contract runs out. This is paid for through Melbourne Water and funded by the public through our water bills. The two companies, Suez and Theiss, are making a profit from water mismanagement and climate change and we are footing the bill.

Daniel Andrews promised to stop selling public services prior to his re-election in 2019. He said that privatisation has been disastrous for Victorians since the Liberal state government in the ’90s, who privatised electricity and the public transport system. Yet now we have Treasurer Tim Pallas wanting to privatise VicRoads.

Yarra Trams is no exception of the privatisation of public services. Yarra Trams is a privately owned by a joint venture between Keolis, a French company, and Downer Rail, an Australian Engineering company, with Keolis owning fifty-one percent of Yarra Trams. Both companies have investments and projects globally. Keolis Downer also own other public transport services in Australia including:

  • Path Transit in WA
  • Southlink/LINKSA in SA
  • Newcastle Transport in NSW
  • Hornibrook Buslines and G:Link in QLD

These public transport companies no longer exist to serve workers and commuters, but the profit of multinationals. According to RTBU, Yarra Trams has doubled their profits in 2018 to $18 billion. Public Transport Victoria have also announced that in 2020 public transport fares will increase in Melbourne’s metro areas by 1.7 percent. The cost for a Daily Full Fare travelling around inner Melbourne is now $9.

Both Liberal and Labor governments have benefitted from the selling of public services. Not only is it the public that end up footing the bill for the multinationals, but workers are also suffering under insecure work conditions. RTBU’s dispute with Yarra Trams is just another example of workers caught in a fight with multinationals while the governments who sell us out remain silent.

Next article – Editorial – Sinophobia Rears Its Ugly Head – Again!

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