Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Public transport pay talks begin

Let’s aim to win!
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Public transport workers across Victoria are beginning negotiations for new workplace agreements. The current enterprise agreements between the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and Yarra Trams, Metro Trains and V/Line are set to expire in July 2019.

As the pay talks begin, members across the entire network seem determined to maintain their hard-won conditions, and to push for the decent pay rises and improved conditions they deserve.

All three of the “franchise operators” are known for putting profits before all else. They have a record of targeting union activists, scheming to undermine conditions, and cooking the books to meet punctuality targets in order to avoid fines.

As the negotiations begin, the first thing that union members should demand is no “claw backs”.

There should be no “concession bargaining”, where our conditions are traded away in exchange for pathetic little pay rises. We need to hold on to every condition while also demanding pay rises that keep up with the increasing cost of living. We know these corporations can afford it.

Public transport in Victoria is a growing sector. Billions of dollars are being invested to build new infrastructure. This is catch up after decades of under-funding by both Labor and Liberal governments.

More jobs will need to be created and we should ensure that the next agreement makes sure those jobs are all permanent, with the right to go full time. We should also push for extra jobs, for the staffing of new train stations, and the restaffing of old locations to ensure the extra capacity is serviced properly and safely.

New jobs must be classified under the existing employment grades. We can’t let the bosses undermine our conditions and divide us by creating new “second tier” classifications, like “train operators” instead of “train drivers”. New technology doesn’t justify worse jobs and lower wages.

During the last round of negotiations some union officials who support the Labor Party spread the idea that the Labor government was on our side. Some even said that the government would get rid of Metro Trains and Yarra Trams management!

Of course, this never happened. Instead the Andrews government sided with the bosses in court to stop workers taking effective strike action. Then they went on to extend the contracts with the private profiteers who operate the network.

No one should be sucked into similar arguments this time. We should prepare now for the government to side with the bosses and start developing a strategy that relies on our own collective strength.

Union officials have already begun to develop a log of claims. This needs to be expanded to fully include the members themselves. Delegates should organise regular membership meetings to endorse the claims and begin a discussion about what an industrial campaign will look like.

These negotiations present us with a huge opportunity to lay down the basis for public transport to be a bastion of good jobs and first-class working conditions. If workers from all three franchisees acted together, we could have a powerful impact and win huge gains that could be passed on to future generations.

We should set an example and implement the ‘industry level bargaining’ that the Australian Council of Trade Unions ‘Change the Rules’ campaign calls for. In this way we wouldn’t allow the bosses to divide us and pick off our conditions. We could act as one to demand that everyone is brought up to a higher standard.

Given the fact that all three agreements are up at the same time, joint strike action is legally possible. This should be a cornerstone of our approach to ensure that we put pressure on both the companies and the government to concede to our just demands.

We should also prepare for the possibility that any strike action will be unfairly determined illegal, as was the case with the Sydney Trains workers in January 2017. If this eventuates, we need to talk about ways and means to turn such a court decision into a dead letter.

Continuing ahead with the strike action regardless, coupled with appeals to public transport users to support our struggle, would have the potential to force the government and the bosses to retreat from legal threats.

No doubt our opponents will try to pit public transport workers and commuters against each other. But in reality, we are on the same side. We all want a world class service that is well-run and well-funded.

Running public transport for profit is undermining the safety and reliability of the system. We need to make this a key part of our pay campaign and have an orientation to commuters from the beginning.

In 2017 the RTBU made the call for public transport to be brought back into public hands. This was a good step forward. We should continue to call for the profiteers to be kicked out of the sector. Instead of funding private companies with our taxes we should use that money to expand the system and create more jobs.

If this pay campaign is well prepared, and run on a fighting and democratic basis, a big win is definitely possible. That said, to make sure this campaign is a success, we first need to get clarity about what demands we are going to put on the employers, and what action will be required to win them.

All members should begin these discussions in their workplaces now, and prepare to get more involved in the campaign in the coming months. Let’s go for a big win in 2019!

By a Metro worker


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