Voting on Metro’s shoddy workplace agreement opens on Thursday afternoon. A growing number of railway workers are dissatisfied with the company’s offer and are planning to vote ‘no’ in the ballot.
In an attempt to exploit worker’s anxiety over potential stand downs, senior managers are arguing that voting ‘yes’ is the best way to lock in job security and pay rises in these uncertain times. That isn’t true.
Disgracefully, the top officials of the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) are towing management’s line. They have given up the fight and are working hand in glove with the bosses to try and sell away our conditions. We can’t let that happen.
Like every other company, Metro has many legal ways to sack people if they decide. In addition, some employers have already successfully applied to the Fair Work Commission to freeze previously agreed pay rises during the pandemic. Metro could do the same. The only thing that can really stop them is organising on the job and taking action.
In recent days, ‘no’ campaigners exposed how the old stand down clause for station staff, authorised officers, signallers and others was deleted from the new agreement. Feeling the pressure, a senior Metro manager and the union’s secretary released a hastily-signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) claiming stand downs are not on the agenda.
Legally, the MOU isn’t water tight and if the proposed agreement was so solid why would we need a side letter anyway? Nevertheless the desperate gesture demonstrates the ability we have to win further concessions, if we keep fighting. We should therefore vote ‘no’ and demand that a solid stand down clause is put back in.
If allowed to go through, this deal would actually undermine key conditions that protect job security. It opens up new possibilities for Metro to attack working conditions throughout the four years the agreement covers.
For the last eighteen months the top union officials have denounced Metro as grubby profiteers, including in city-wide advertising. Now, despite very little pressure being applied to the company, these same officials have back flipped and are singing the praises of this deal.
Who to believe?
Many staff are not sure who to believe after a deluge of emails and just want to know the truth. Workers report that union officials have been visiting worksites spouting all sorts of horror stories to scare people into a ‘yes’ vote.
They are also playing divide-and-rule, telling lies about train drivers who are in a separate division of the union compared to other operations workers.
The top union leaders cynically say that drivers haven’t read the agreement, implying they don’t know what they’re talking about. But drivers have held dozens of mass meetings to thoroughly discuss and analyse the issues, and have democratically rejected the deal.
Scores of drivers have carefully read the agreement and are working hard to expose the very real threats. A growing number of station staff are also aware of the problems with the agreement and are campaigning for a ‘no’ vote against the wishes of union leaders.
There are reports that many ‘yes’ campaigners are resorting to conspiracy theories to try and discredit the ‘no’ campaign. Ridiculously, they say a ‘no’ vote is an elaborate political plot to ruin the union! These workers have unfortunately been guided into the role of management stooges by the misleadership of top union officials.
The simple truth is that hundreds of workers are quite simply worried about their livelihoods – not personal vendettas or nefarious plots. These workers have simply not been convinced by union officials who have failed to address their legitimate concerns.
Some of the problems
Many of the supposed “wins” promoted by ‘yes’ campaigners simply re-word existing commitments and company obligations under workplace laws. Metro has a long record of using weasel words to attack our conditions. Why should we give them the benefit of the doubt now?
For station staff, signallers, authorised officers and administrative workers this deal has a range of clauses that facilitate cutting jobs, hours and pay, and entrenching more precarious work.
The clauses around “sustainable employment” and “roster development” are also bad news. The commitment to review rosters yearly to deal with ‘problems’ doesn’t explain what the problems could be, or who decides on them.
Without an organised campaign to fight for concrete rostering demands – which union leaders have long neglected – the effect will be for Metro to manipulate rosters in ways that reduce their wages bill.
Metro could for example claim an excess of staff and redeploy some to a lower pay grade at a new location. They would remain classified at the higher grade, but future pay rises would be frozen until their pay matches the lower pay grade anyway.
Metro also gets to decide how far a ‘reasonable’ distance for redeployment is, and what constitutes a redeployment opportunity. Trusting Metro to ‘do the right thing’ without clear guidelines is a recipe for disaster.
Station staff won a major victory against the closure of control desks and job cuts in March 2018. Metro’s new slippery clause on the issue doesn’t guarantee the number of control desks or the locations where they will remain, making only vague references to central and ‘outstations’.
It cannot be ruled out that Metro would consolidate control desks in super hub locations, meaning rostering cut backs and potentially fewer full time jobs.
A whole raft of other changes would also allow Metro to bring in a new under-class of part time workers to drive trains with fewer protections. That would be bad for all workers as the overall number of better quality full time jobs is reduced. Part timers especially will be left to fight over the remaining scraps.
Removing the minimum number of weeks for the driver training scheme, and increasing the maximum number of trips on a single line in a shift, weakens safety standards. This puts staff and passengers at risk.
Many rail workers understand that Metro’s single focus is delivering ever-fatter profits to its shareholders. If they think they can get away with something, they will try. That’s the underlying reason why they can’t be trusted, and why it’s important to fight for something much better than what’s on the table now.
When we win a strong agreement it will always be up to union members to enforce it. The ‘no’ campaign is playing an important role in bringing union members from across the divisions together. This will help to make enforcement more effective in the future.
In recent days rumours have run rife about Metro’s imminent insolvency. Emails from the CEO have confirmed revenue has plummeted and a hiring freeze has taken place alongside restrictions on spending. The bosses are begging the state government for a bail out.
If Metro claim they can’t afford to keep running and sign a decent agreement then we should demand they open their books and show us where the millions in taxpayer-funded profits went. There’s no good reason taxpayers and workers should suffer to keep funding dividends and profits for shareholders.
You don’t need shareholders and their servants to run a public transport system, as V/Line and Sydney Trains demonstrate. It is the workers that make the system work. With public ownership, instead of the system being run by overpaid bureaucrats, running of the network could be overseen democratically by elected representatives of commuters and workers.
Ultimately, the only real way to guarantee safety and reliability, protect working conditions and ensure decent pay for staff is to remove the profiteers and renationalise public transport on a democratic basis.
– Vote ‘No’ to Metro’s shoddy agreement! For unity across the grades! Keep up the fight to protect working conditions!
– End concession bargaining! Our conditions are not for sale! Fight for a bigger share of the profits our work creates!
– We are stronger together! For a fighting, democratic union that refuses to bow to Metro’s divide and rule tactics.
– Reverse privatisation! Boot out Metro and rebuild a public railway operator, managed democratically by workers and commuters!
By a public transport worker