Tuesday, February 24, 2004

WA train drivers strike

By Chris Latham

Metropolitan train drivers voted on February 13 to strike as part of their campaign for a new enterprise agreement. The Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) later that day ordered the workers to return to work. However, most workers did not return to work until the morning of February 16.

The walkout was prompted by the failure of the Western Australian Labor government's Public Transport Authority (PTA) to provide the union with the full text of its enterprise agreement offer prior to the stop-work meeting, Bob Christison, Rail, Train and Bus Union (RTBU) state secretary, told Green Left Weekly.

Christison said another reason for the workers' decision to strike was that they had received two letters the previous week, which they considered to be "threatening and intimidatory". "Those letters came from the minister for infrastructure and the acting chief executive officer of the PTA, and that further inflamed the situation", Christison said.

Christison said the union has been forced into industrial action over the past four months by the WA government's attempt to restrict public sector workers' wage increases to 9% over three years.

The government has offered a 6.9% pay rise over two years, which the union says is acceptable. However, RTBU is also attempting to regain working conditions lost in previous agreements, the most important being that workers receive days off in lieu when they work on public holidays, and that there be a cap on the number of journeys (or distance travelled) that train drivers work in a day. The RTBU has demanded that the pay rise be backdated to October 1, as the old agreement expired on September 30.

The union is also attempting to protect train guards' rosters. When the PTA first employed guards, they were rostered to shifts of between eight and 10 hours. Part-time guards filled the gaps with shifts of approximately six hours per day, five days a week.

Nine months ago, the PTA moved to shorten full-time workers' minimum shift and stop employing part-time workers. In response, the RTBU demanded that full-time workers' shifts be a minimum of eight hours. The PTA rejected this demand on the morning of the February 13 stop-work meeting.

The next flashpoint in the dispute will be the fate of drivers who failed to return to work prior to February 16. Although the IRC has indicated that it is unlikely that action will be taken against the RTBU, the PTA is threatening to sack workers who failed to work their rostered shifts.

From Green Left Weekly #572.


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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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