Tram depot workers rail against bosses

Almost 90 maintenance workers at East Preston tram depot in Melbourne struck for four days last week and are preparing to walk out again.

The workers are engaged in a six-year project involving the Victorian government and contractor Downer to refurbish the tram fleet.

They include electricians, boilermakers, fitters, storemen, painters and technicians and are members of the RTBU, ETU and AMWU, covering tram workers, electricians and metalworkers respectively.

Last week they picketed the depot entrance from Tuesday to Friday, not allowing deliveries or workers in or out.

Workers told Solidarity that HR stood and watched for the first couple of days, shocked by workers’ confidence and spirit.

Members and union officials maintained a strong picket line, waving flags and showing fighting spirit, backed up on the final day by a coffee truck and a DJ. They reported lots of support and donations from the community.

They are fighting for an enterprise agreement that matches conditions for maintenance and infrastructure workers at other depots. That includes:

  • a 36-hour week (currently 38)
  • a nine-day fortnight
  • all overtime paid at double time (currently 150 per cent).

In addition, they want:

  • a 5 per cent pay rise a year over a three-year agreement (Downer initially offered 2.5 per cent, with a second offer of 4, 3 and 3 per cent with workers losing their travel pass)
  • 28 casual contractors converted to full time (Downer is offering conversion to fixed-term)
  • long service leave to be paid pro-rata after four years (as it’s a six-year project, workers won’t be eligible for LSL that kicks in at seven years).

The workers rejected Downer’s second offer and then balloted for action, with 90 per cent of them voting and 100 per cent supporting taking protected action.

According to RTBU Assistant Branch Secretary, Phil Altieri, the Downer CEO earns $4.5 million a year.

He said negotiations would resume on Monday but unions were already preparing to resume the strike and the picket next week from Tuesday to Friday.

“We have made it clear, the ball is in their court. We want a formal offer and the boys want parity with the boys down the road.

“The guys are fired up and the company now understands that.”

By Sarah Thorne

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