The Socialist recently spoke with a Metro trains worker about the ongoing pay negotiations between the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and the private companies that run public transport in Victoria.
Q: What are some of the things the Metro bosses are trying to change in the new agreement?
A: The bosses want to shred hard-won conditions, especially around rostering, working time and how we do our job. They say it’s all in the name of being ‘modern’ and ‘flexible’. But most workers know that’s code for “do what we say, when we say it” with no right to challenge them.
For example, they want a situation where train drivers can be forced to sign on and off at any depot management decides, instead of always starting at the same location.
They want more ‘repetitive running’ too. Drivers would be forced up and down on only a few lines. This is a clear safety problem, because repetitive tasks dull the senses and promote complacency. It’s much more likely for drivers to make small but critical errors in this situation.
Creating the basis for a ‘split shift’ system for train drivers of four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon is also in their plans. Tram drivers already suffer this. It can mean 14 hours away from home. This type of rostering increases fatigue, especially by fracturing a worker’s personal or family time.
That’s just a taste of what they want!
It’s all part of an ongoing long-term desire of management and the state government to undermine the pay and conditions of public transport workers. If they are successful private shareholders will get fatter profits. Those profits would come at the expense of the safety and wellbeing of public transport workers and users, as well as the quality of the system.
Q: It sounds like Metro management have some pretty vicious claims. If they don’t back down from them will there be industrial action?
A: We certainly won’t agree to a radical undermining of our jobs and the public transport system. It’s not just about us either. It’s about defending the system for commuters and the bastion of good jobs for other workers, especially young people, into the future. It’s part of the fight against insecure work and low pay everywhere.
No one likes losing pay on strike, but if we are forced to defend ourselves then I think we will.
Q: What would you say to public transport users that might be affected?
A: Metro managers and their mates in the big-business media will start up the “selfish, lazy, overpaid and underworked” propaganda to slur us. And as usual reporters will be able to find a couple of disgruntled right-wing commuters to complain about us. That’s no reason to give in though. As the old union saying goes “If you don’t fight, you lose.”
The truth is that when other workers have lower pay and poorer conditions it is an argument to raise their pay and improve their conditions. It’s not an argument to cut and worsen ours. I think most people will understand that, and realise that we are being forced to defend ourselves against greedy multinational corporations and their backers in government.
I think we can win support by getting out on the front foot to make that case. We should start now.
Q: Some people say the state Labor government, or a new federal Labor government will help you. Is that true?
A: In short, no. State Labor sided with the bosses in the courts against us during the last negotiations in 2015, to stop our legitimate and legal defensive strike action. Metro and the Andrews Labor government are in bed together on a lot of projects. Federal Labor haven’t promised the unions much at all. I wouldn’t expect them to act any differently to Andrews.
Q: Will you be able to successfully defend yourselves?
A: I think we can. One of our slogans is “We run the network”. It shows our potential power.
We really need to step up our preparation for potential industrial action now though. We need more and frequent mass meetings of RTBU members to discuss, plan and prepare. That will put us in the strongest position possible for the struggle in coming months.