Magazine of the Socialist Party, Australian section of the CWI

Vic: Metro threatening job losses

New public transport contracts putting profits first
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Metro wasted no time launching fresh attacks on staff over the holiday period after their new contract with the state government began. Metro are seeking to cut jobs, despite promising there would be no job losses with the new contract.

Up to 30 positions could be cut at stations on the Hurstbridge and South Morang lines under a plan to remove crucial network infrastructure called ‘control desks’. Part time staff risk having hours drastically reduced.

Metro claim their plan to centralise and upgrade the ‘control desk’ technology will “provide a better more efficient service for our passengers”. In fact, the plan’s main impact will be less staff at train stations, with those remaining robbed of crucial network information and communication tools, undermining their ability to help maintain a safe and on-time service.

A better service for passengers would be achieved by upgrading control desks in their existing locations, giving staff more training and reopening closed stations – including station toilets. Station staff play an important role in preventing train delays and responding to problems quickly, so putting on more staff would help keep the system running smoothly.

Unsurprisingly Metro’s plan is the exact opposite of this, because their real motivations are boosting profits by reducing their wages bill. This latest attack follows an attempt to cut five jobs during an Upfield line shut-down for level crossing removal works. While the Labor state government has spent untold advertising dollars to spread their slogan “removing level crossings creates Victorian jobs”, they’re empowering Metro to actually destroy jobs.

The government claim the new public transport contracts with private operators are about “putting passengers first” but attacks like these show Metro and the government are putting profits first, and workers and passengers last.

Fearing a staff backlash, Metro have attempted to clamp down on union entry rights. Union members defied this intimidation at a series of well-attended workplace meetings in January.

Members made it clear they want to fight and oppose any job losses. The Rail, Tram & Bus Union (RTBU) have lodged a dispute under provisions in the Enterprise Agreement about Metro failing to properly consult. This is a start but if we are really going to stop the removal of control desks or save the threatened jobs we will have to go much further.

There is a fighting mood among many union members, with stop-work tactics already being discussed. Responding to this, RTBU officials said they are an industry-wide union that can “hit them where it hurts” if necessary. More discussion is needed amongst union members about how to achieve this.

A swift and fighting campaign unafraid to use stop-work tactics is the only way to defeat Metro’s plan. If Metro win this fight, at some point they will inevitably repeat the process on other lines, threatening upwards of 100 jobs. This would boost their confidence to push for wage reductions for de-skilled station staff and more job cuts in other departments.

With that in mind, the RTBU should conduct workplace meetings at other stations and departments, explaining that an injury to one is an injury to all. The RTBU and other railway unions should also immediately instruct their members who work in communications infrastructure and other associated roles not to carry out any work to remove control desks.

The next step should be for the RTBU to call a mass stop-work meeting where as many union members and delegates as possible can come together to democratically discuss and decide on a list of demands and a plan for action to prevent any job losses associated with the new contract.

The Socialist Party calls for:

– Not one single job loss – fight Metro’s plan with stop-work tactics
– Upgrade ‘control desks’ in situ and provide more staff training
– Re-open closed stations, create new full-time positions

Metro’s actions show how a for-profit public transport system is at odds with the needs of workers and passengers. The RTBU was correct last year to call for the transport operators to be brought back into public hands and should continue campaigning seriously for this.

But more than that, workers everywhere must fight for a socialist alternative to the profit-system, one where those who run the network and those who rely on it call the shots rather than private profiteers.

By a Metro worker

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