- by B Curphey
- The Guardian
- Issue #2025
Tangara at Sydenham station, Sydney. Photo: Trainsandtech – commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sydney_Trains_Tangara_T54_at_Sydenham.jpg (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Plans to disable the ticket readers at Sydney’s metro train stations are back on the table after the RTBU filed a new application for industrial action on 19th September. The action was originally planned to go ahead on 14th but was scrapped.
As discussed in Guardian #2020 (“RTBU’S ‘Rolling’ Actions Highlight Broken Bargaining System”), the Union is striking over the safety of the new Korean-built trains that the government proposes to operate, as well as improvements to the wages and conditions of rail workers.
Meanwhile, the anti-union rhetoric continues from both sides of the aisle. NSW Labor leader, Chris Minns has dismissively characterised the rail dispute as a “small disagreement,” arguing that the two parties are “not that far apart.”
In reality, the interests of the two parties are fundamentally opposed. The government wants to keep its revenue up and its costs down, and is willing to sacrifice the wages and safety of workers to do it. The dispute has arisen over the government’s refusal to negotiate an EBA for workers.
NSW Treasurer Matt Kean has warned the union to “stop using the public as your political playthings” and warned that the action will “cost taxpayers billions.” The government says that if the action goes ahead, they will seek to terminate negotiations between them and the union.
The union is not intimidated by the government’s “desperate” attempt to break up the strike, says RTBU NSW Secretary Alex Claassens:
“As soon as we can, we’re going to turn those Opal Card machines off again, and we’ll be giving the commuters in New South Wales free travel until of course the government comes to their senses and agrees to sit down with us and negotiate, and fix our unsafe trains and agree on decent wages and conditions for our members.”
The union sees the action to switch off the ticketing machines as a tactic to get the government to come to the table. It won’t hurt commuters, but it will hurt the bosses:
“Turning off the Opal machines is the latest protected industrial action rail workers have been forced to take following the NSW government’s continued refusal to deliver safe train and fair wages and conditions for workers. It’s good news for commuters and will hopefully force the NSW government to reconsider its current strategy of stalling negotiations and picking public fights.”
The bosses of the Sydney Metro network, the NSW government, claim the proposed action is “illegal” and “dangerous.” Dangerous for who? Mostly, it is dangerous for the government’s bottom line – the planned action will cost them $1 million a day in ticket revenues on Sydney’s metro trains. The Union insists that commuters will not be affected by the action.
As for the illegality, the FWC will soon decide whether or not the action can go ahead. If the FWC decides in favour of the union, the union can switch off the ticketing machines 10 days after the decision is handed down. If they decide against the union, the action will not be able to go ahead lawfully.