The Guardian February 16, 2000

Queensland rail dispute:
Success for united unions

Following a 48-hour statewide rail strike Queensland Rail (QR) has 
agreed to the inclusion of a special clause in railworkers' enterprise 
agreement that permits further wage rises during the period of the 
agreement to take into consideration the consequences of the GST on 
workers' cost of living.

Rail operations across Queensland  including metropolitan services and 
coal trains  were shut down during the strike.

The campaign and the industrial action were noteworthy for the united 
action by the five rail unions  the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU); the 
Metal Workers; CEPU Electrical Division; the Engine Drivers (AFULE Q); and 
the Queensland Services Union.

The unions had sought two wages rises of six per cent each over two years, 
in anticipation of the likely inflationary effect of the GST.

"Unions and members believed that the tax cuts associated with the 
introduction of the GST would be inadequate to compensate for the increases 
in the cost of living flowing from the introduction of the GST", said 
Trevor Campbell, Queensland Branch President of the RTBU.

QR offered 3.5 per cent on signing the enterprise agreement and a further 
three per cent in July 2001. The offer excluded any other claims.

Stopwork meetings on January 19 were almost unanimous in their rejection of 
Queensland Rail's proposals.

QR said it was not prepared to agree to the inclusion of any provision in 
the agreement that was designed to protect workers' wages from the impact 
of a significant increase in inflation as a result of the GST, interest 
rate rises or the movement in other commodity prices such as petrol.

At all the major rallies workers expressed their frustration and anger at 
QR's "insulting" offer.

The anger is not just about wage rates, but also growing insecurity, 
frustration and dissatisfaction with management in the industry.

There have been job losses through downsizing and technological change, a 
recruitment and selection process that rail workers are unhappy with, and 
an employee-management system that is regularly abused by management.

Workers are also concerned about privatisation and its attendant 
competition policy, including third party access to rail tracks.

So far Queensland Rail have stuck with an integrated public rail system, 
but for how much longer?

On February 3 there were further stopwork meetings authorising the unions 
to "call any action necessary in pursuit of the claim". Again the members 
were almost unanimous.

The 48-hour strike action commenced at midnight on Tuesday February 7. It 
was well supported by members who were in a fighting mood.

They remained out following orders on the Wednesday from the Industrial 
Relations Commission to return to work.

It was only on the second day that agreement to return to work was reached 
 following a shift in the position of QR.

The package agreed upon backdates a 3.5 percent wage rise to January 2000 
and gives a three percent rise in January 2001  not July 2001 as sought 
by QR. The backdating is important because the agreement still has to be 
distributed to members and voted upon before signing.

The RTBU estimates that these two measures are worth around an additional 
$730 for many of the workers.

Originally QR was only prepared to apply 50 per cent of the two increases 
(3% & 3.5%) to the aggregate allowance of Traincrew. The unions sought 100 
percent of the rate.

The agreement gives 75 per cent for that component.

The full rate will apply to other allowances.

As for the GST, the wage rises in the new agreement do not exclude 
additional increases, depending on the impact of the GST, but these will 
still have to be fought for.

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