NO Hunter trains will run on the Monday after Australia Day unless unions and train management can settle an escalating dispute over pay and conditions and the controversial new timetable for Sydney trains.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union state secretary Alex Claassens told the Newcastle Herald that Monday, January 29, had been chosen for the statewide rail strike to minimise disruption.
“There’s never a good day for things like this but it’s a pupil-free day, there’s no kids at school and it’s the Monday after the Australia Day on Friday,” Mr Claassens said.
He said seven unions and the management of Sydney Trains and NSW Trains were still in negotiations over the enterprise agreement, with about 10 issues, including pay, still to be settled.
The RTBU and the Berejiklian government have been at loggerheads in recent days over big delays for Sydney commuters triggered by the introduction of new Sydney train timetables. The government initially accused the union of a covert campaign to have drivers take sickies, but the chief executive of Sydney Trains, Howard Collins, subsequently acknowledged that the new timetable needed an extra 150 drivers to run the new timetable and its 1500 extra weekday services.
Mr Claassens said the breaking up of Sydney Trains into “sectors” was a factor in the driver shortage, because drivers working in one section of the system were generally prohibited from driving in another, even in times of shortage.
He said the unions believed the government had broken the system into sectors as a pre-privatisation move, but it was backfiring now. He said the ability to move drivers between sectors was one of the issues under negotiation.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance had criticised the RTBU for campaigning for a pay rise of 6 per cent a year, saying that if the government wages cap of 2.5 per cent was good enough for teachers, nurses and police, it was good enough for train drivers.
But Mr Claassens said it was an opening, ambit claim, decided on by members who were “annoyed about the big salaries being thrown around for managers”. He said the strike involved all staff working for NSW Trains and Sydney Trains. Services would end at midnight on the Sunday night and resume after midnight on Tuesday morning.
He expected the government may invoke the Essential Services Act to stop the strike. He said rail management had been talking with the State Transit Authority about obtaining buses to replace trains, but the scale of the task made it highly unlikely.
Mr Claassens said the unions were lift with little choice but to start industrial action because months of talks were getting nowhere on the substantial issues.
He said NSW passenger train drivers earned substantially less than their counterparts driving freight trains.
He said they also earned about 20 per cent less than passenger train drivers in Queensland and Victoria.
He said the government had claimed the average Sydney train driver was on $113,000 but he said it would take overtime to achieve that sort of money.
He said the base rate for suburban drivers was $75,000, while for CountryLink country drivers it was $85,000.
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