Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Rail unionists drive for a better deal

By Chris Latham

Train drivers on Perth's metropolitan rail-lines stopped work for four hours on January 11 to discuss the Rail, Tram and Bus Union's campaign for a new enterprise agreement. RTBU rail division secretary Bob Christison told Green Left Weekly that 65% of train drivers who are union members attended the stop-work meeting.

The RTBU claim calls for a wage rise of 20% over two years compared to the government's offer of 6.5% over the same period. In addition to the wage rise, the RTBU's log of claims is aimed at improving working conditions. Two key issues that have emerged during the campaign are workers' toilet breaks and the number of guards on night trains.

The timing of drivers' toilet breaks has become an issue due to a number of safety incidents at stations and railway crossings. When these incidents occur, trains can be heldup for an extended time and drivers do not have access to toilets. Consequently, in September last year, the RTBU directed drivers to take toilet breaks prior to beginning a section, rather than at the end of it. The Public Transport Authority, however, demanded the RTBU lift the directive.

When the union refused, the authority sought orders from the WA Industrial Relations Commission to end the practice and threatened to suspend enterprise bargaining negotiations. The authority has opposed breaks prior to journeys because it claims that on a number of occasions it has delayed train departures. Christison told GLW that one driver was quizzed about her toilet breaks. In response the RTBU held stop work meetings on November 25.

The RTBU members are pushing for increased guard numbers on night trains, to resolve concerns over public safety. Currently, two guards travel on all trains after 7pm, but as Christison told the January 13 West Australian, trains "could be left without a guard if a passenger became unruly and required an escort to the nearest station".

On January 11, the union implemented work bans directing drivers to stop trains if guards leave the train. If these bans are still in place on January 26, it is possible that there will be disruption to the fireworks event that day, which is Perth's biggest single-day public transport load.

From Green Left Weekly #567

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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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