Melbourne strikes halt trains and trams

Industrial action has paralysed Melbourne’s transport system in recent weeks as disputes with Yarra Trams and Metro Trains escalate.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) was demonised in the press and by the state Labor government for taking legal industrial action, with the government even joining Metro in an application to the Fair Work Commission to quash the strike.

On Friday 4 September a four hour strike between 10am and 2pm disrupted services from 8.30am to 4.30pm, bringing 689 trains to a standstill. The strike cost the city $10 million as commuters simply took the day off.

It comes only a week after the first tram strike since 1997, demanding an 18 per cent pay rise over three years and the retention of existing conditions.

Metro

Similar issues forced train staff to take industrial action. A key grievance is the weakening of driver training and consequent deskilling. Metro has proposed “repetitive running” which limits drivers to a single track or zone. Drivers fear this could put downward pressure on pay.

RTBU State Secretary Luba Grigorovitch likened this to, “getting a driver’s licence to only drive down one road.”

Such a scheme would allow Metro to save on training drivers by cutting the 68 weeks currently required by half. Earlier cuts to training hours resulted in an increase in trains driving through danger signals.

Transport workers need to keep up the pressure to win a fair outcome. Metro made a profit of $65 million and received over a billion dollars in government subsidies last year.

The union initially announced simultaneous train and tram strikes but called them off in favour of negotiations. And earlier threats of “free travel days” could have won widespread public support but still hit Metro’s profits.

Speaking at Friday’s strike rally CFMEU State Secretary John Setka suggested industrial action again during AFL finals.

Shadow treasurer Michael O’Brien claimed this “would pretty much be an act of treason”, revealing the pressure the strikes have put bosses and politicians under.

Public transport workers have serious power to force the bosses to cave—they should use it.

By Lachlan Marshall

Magazine

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