The Rail, Tram and Bus Union in Victoria has beaten an attempt by Metro Trains to quash a protected action ballot order at the Fair Work Commission.
Australia has some of the most restrictive and anti-democratic industrial relations laws in the world. Striking is almost entirely illegal except for a tiny window during the negotiation of enterprise agreements, and even then there are several hoops unions must jump through. Unions must first get permission from the Fair Work Commission to even ask their members if they want to take strike action, and then they have to conduct a secret postal ballot in which a majority of employees must vote (and of course, of that, a majority must vote to strike).
Even when all these requirements are met, employers can still challenge the industrial action. Last year, NSW rail workers had their strike deemed illegal by Fair Work because the strike threatened to be effective and stop trains!
Four years ago, union members at Metro Trains and Yarra Trams struck for the first time in almost two decades as part of negotiations for a new agreement. Back then, the state Labor industrial relations minister worked with the private transport companies to take the union to the Fair Work Commission in an attempt to have our industrial action terminated. Fortunately they were unsuccessful, and the ensuing action won some important concessions.
This time around, union members at Metro Trains are fighting for a 6 percent pay rise, protections for part time workers, guaranteed minimum staffing numbers to protect job security and ensure improved passenger service and safety, and provisions to limit favouritism and ensure fair career progression opportunities.
Union members at Yarra Trams are similarly fighting for a 6 percent pay rise and secure jobs. Management wants to significantly reduce minimum hours for part timers, from seven hours to four, and increase the cap on the part time workforce from 4 percent to 22 percent.
Due to a strong union presence, public transport workers have staved off the casualisation that has plagued many other industries. But expanding the part time workforce with low minimum required hours and a high cap on possible additional hours without being paid overtime reflect the transport companies’ desire for a more insecure workforce.
In the following days union members will be receiving protected industrial action ballots in the mail. A high return of ballots and an overwhelming majority in support of industrial action will be an important first step towards thwarting the transport bosses’ attacks and winning some improvements for workers.