Melbourne rail operator Metro is continuing to insist that railway workers give up hard won conditions including rostering protections, safety measures and union rights. In the past two weeks momentum shifted to management with the Labor state government coming in behind the company, against the workers and their union.
By an RTBU member and Metro worker
Staff were threatened with stand downs and wage reductions in the lead up to the first planned four hour strike and two ‘free travel days’ two weeks ago. Company lawyers planned to apply to the misnamed ‘Fair Work Commission’ to have legally protected industrial action terminated despite union members voting 98% in favour of it. When the Labor government said it would send lawyers to support management’s legal manoeuvre the union leadership called off the strike.
Labor are standing alongside Metro management because they want a smooth, fast and cheap implementation of their ‘home safe’ 24 hour weekend public transport policy. At a deeper level Labor support privatisation of public services. That means management’s ‘right’ to make as much profit as possible, however they see fit, even by bullying workers, cutting conditions and undermining union organisation.
Supposedly management were going to make an ‘improved’ offer in response to the union leaderships back down. Unsurprisingly they pressed their advantage. The renewed offer did not provide any real improvements on their previous demands that workers sell away their conditions at ‘weekend saver’ rates.
Management still want train drivers to agree to longer, repetitive schedules that undermine public safety. They plan to impose rosters of five consecutive Sundays in every eight, slash overtime payments and weaken public holiday compensation. Most importantly they intend to erode our ability to organise and resist by weakening provisions for delegates time, union representation in disciplinary matters and imposing a one sided ‘no extra claims’ clause.
In response the union is organising a week of industrial action. On Monday workers will not wear uniforms and on Wednesday and Thursday train drivers, controllers and signallers will refuse to alter train running from the published time table.
A four hour stoppage on Friday is also planned between 10am and 2pm. Drivers and station staff are also set to make announcements and hand out leaflets to explain the dispute to commuters. This is an important step, as commuters stand to lose more in the long term if Metro management get their way than if the workers mount a short and decisive stop-work campaign.
It is crucial that these actions go ahead and are made as effective as possible to turn the situation around in favour of the workers. Both management and the Labor government saw the first actions as a bluff, and they called it successfully.
One reason was that strike action was never seriously prepared or built while the communication to the general public about the issues at stake has been confusing at best. Moreover many union members have commented that not enough information or guidance was provided. It’s no good threatening a heavily armed enemy with artillery if they can see you haven’t brought any shells.
It is still possible to win this dispute but it will take a stepping up of the campaign and a serious attitude to following through with stop work action proposed.