Don’t believe the lies. What’s at stake for rail workers?

Most of the media would have you believe that rail workers are greedy, stupid and contemptuous of the public. Driving a train is a job that “could easily be done by a robot”, jibed Melbourne Grammar brat James Campbell in his Herald Sun column.

The despicable Judith Sloan, who, as well as being an editor at the Australian, has held a position on the Productivity Commission, called public transport workers “pampered”. Any talk of, “‘hard won’ conditions is really code for unjustified, restrictive work practices”, she said.

So, what’s really at stake?

Sectorised running

Metro wants to break up the metropolitan network into five separate “operating areas”. It plans on reducing driver training and rostering drivers on only a small section of the network. This has serious public safety implications. Already, on average, more than one person a week is struck by a train. Anything that may lead to an increase of these incidents must be opposed.

Home Safe

Home Safe is the state government initiative to run public transport all night on the weekends. We support this initiative but can’t agree to implement it blindly. The introduction of 24-hour public transport service will mean major changes to our working conditions. Metro want us to agree to the project without any detail or consultation.

Station staff have just been through an arduous three-year battle with Metro over rostering. We know the company thinks nothing of restructuring our lives on a whim. We’ve fought off their plans to have us work in 12-hour shifts, 10 days straight, with only a two-day break before another seven-day stretch. We won’t let them use the introduction of Home Safe to restart their push for these types of rosters. And if that isn’t their intention, why are they so steadfastly refusing to disclose their plans?

Penalty rates

While slimy media commentators have spilled much ink exaggerating train drivers’ wages, they have been remarkably silent about what most rail workers earn. A full-time station assistant earns approximately $50,000 a year (about a third of the figure most often quoted as the wage of a rail worker). 

However, since Metro took over in 2009, the percentage of part-time staff has increased significantly. It’s not uncommon for station staff who want to move into higher grades or get full-time work to remain stuck in part-time jobs on the lowest grade for up to 10 years. Metro can offer as few as 20 hours per week to these workers. Many of these people support families on less than $30,000 a year.   

Now, Metro wants to take overtime and penalty rates from these workers. Metro knows well that part-time workers are desperate for more work. It won’t give them full-time jobs but wants them at the ready to take on extra hours when it suits the company, but without paying overtime rates. 

Conditions

Metro has increased its profits by nearly two-thirds since taking over the running of the Melbourne rail system. It is not unreasonable that the workers who create this wealth demand a share of it. However, rail workers have made it very clear from the outset that our key objective is to maintain our conditions.

Among the other changes Metro is seeking is the right to make new claims after our agreement is finalised, a weakened consultation clause, a weakened dispute resolution clause, increased restrictions on our sick leave and the right to determine when we take annual leave.