The Guardian November 22, 2000


SRA staff hit but millions for private line

by Marcus Browning

An indication of the underlying cause of problems in the NSW rail service 
is that at a time when State Rail Authority (SRA) staff are working in 
conditions of understaffing, long shifts and inadequate time off, the Carr 
Government is considering pouring more money into the private Airport Link 
Corporation.

At the same time, the proposals arising out of the inquiry into the 
Glenbrook train disaster that call for the SRA to be given "more freedom" 
to drug test signallers and drivers "at any time", actually take the focus 
away from the main safety questions of worker fatigue, staffing and morale.

The Airport Link Corporation  the company which provides the new private 
rail service between the city (Central Station) and the domestic and 
international air terminals at Sydney Airport  is demanding that the 
Government pay it $15 million in compensation because the $900 million 
project has failed to reach its target passenger number of 42,000 per day.

While the SRA chews over this demand it has promised $700,000 for a 
campaign to promote the line and intends to provide it with more of the 
system's state-of-the-art Tangara trains.

The SRA has also diverted many of the trains on the East Hills service to 
go via the airport link stations of Green Square, Mascot, Domestic and 
International, causing anger among passengers using the service because 
they are taken on what is actually a time-consuming promotional tour of the 
private line.

The Australian Services Union has condemned the transfer of the Tangaras. 
"For State Rail to commit Tangaras to that service at the expense of the 
rest of the rail network is outrageous", said the union. "We should not be 
subsidising that service which is over-priced and unfeasible."

Meanwhile, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) pointed out that under 
legislation signallers and drivers are already subjected to random breath 
tests, although not drug tests.

The union says that when looking at safety in the rail industry there needs 
to be consideration given to fatigue management and the length of shifts 
worked. Tests have shown that fatigue can have the same effects on a worker 
as alcohol and drugs.

"As a union we've been saying that when considering safety you've got to 
take a wholistic approach", RTBU NSW Secretary, Nick Lewocki, told The 
Guardian.

"This includes developing proper rostering principles and even looking at 
the question of morale within the railways, where people, because of the 
ongoing restructure and the concern about their job security, really don't 
come to work in a frame of mind that is conducive to them having full 
concentration."

He said looking at safety means taking into consideration a whole series of 
issues, not a narrow approach focusing on just one area.

There are signallers and station staff who regularly work 12-hour shifts

Furthermore, even though under the award staff have a rostered day off each 
fortnight, there are those who work long stretches without proper days off.

This includes some effectively working 26 days straight by having the first 
day of the first fortnight off, and then the last day of the second 
fortnight.

"We say rostering officers should take note of those sorts of issues to 
ensure that people are given quality rest periods", said Mr Lewocki.

"You can have a situation where someone's been working night shift and then 
they have what's called a `pyjama day off', really a day where they just 
sleep in and then return to work."

He said there had been quite a number of staff shortages prior to the 
Olympics.

"Post-Olympics we've been able to hold on to quite a number of the casual 
and part-time staff, and they're actually recruiting now from that pool of 
people which will alleviate that situation.

"What we're hoping is that they maintain that; that they don't just do it 
as a one-off and allow numbers to run down again."

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