NSW train workers will strike for 24 hours on January 29 after negotiations over pay and conditions fell apart.
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) announced the strike on Tuesday, saying it was the result of Sydney Trains and NSW Trains management “refus[ing] to negotiate a fair and reasonable enterprise agreement”.
Workers will stop work at 12.01am on Monday, January 29, and continue until midnight, on a day some students will be returning to school after the holidays.
Alex Claassens, the union’s NSW secretary, said commuters were given as much notice as possible to make alternate arrangements.
“There’s never an ideal time to take this kind of action, but the reality is, we have to,” Mr Claassens said.
“The Transport Minister and management haven’t left us with any other choice.”
The strike announcement comes after a horror week for the city’s rail network, which left thousands of commuters stranded in peak hour.
Sydney Trains chief executive Howard Collins had warned if drivers refused to work unplanned or rostered overtime, it could cause fresh chaos.
Mr Claassens said the union had been attempting to negotiate an enterprise agreement on behalf of 9000 workers for more than six months, but the NSW government and trains management refused to bargain on pay and basic conditions that impact workers’ safety.
“The terrible way management and the NSW Government are willing to treat their hard-working employees has been laid bare for everyone to see lately,” he said. “All workers are asking for fair working conditions and wages in return for the work they do.”
He said the government could stop the strike at any time in the next two weeks if they returned to the negotiating table with a “fair agreement”.
Rail workers are unhappy about the current enterprise agreement and have voted to take industrial action as they continue to fight for a 6 per cent pay rise and improved working conditions including rostering and claiming days off.
While Mr Claassens acknowledges the proposed 6 per cent rise is “a bit out there,” he says members want decent recognition for their work.
Transport minister Andrew Constance denied negotiations have broken down and said the strike was “ridiculous”, “an escalation” and “weird behaviour” by the RTBU.
“They will shut down the city in taking this step,” Mr Constance said. “This is not putting customers first, this is putting interests of union bosses first, well above the customers.
“The government is willing to make a pay rise offer to Sydney train drivers and NSW train drivers. It’s in accordance with the wages policy, that is a 2.5 per cent per annum increase.
“In terms of the rest of the enterprise agreement, roll it over … that’s what’s on the table.”
Mr Constance urged the union to call off the strike and “put commuters first”.
“We have a Fair Work hearing under way, we have a discussion that is going to happen between Unions NSW and Sydney Trains on Thursday, and we’ll go from there,” he said.
“The RTBU are no longer leading this negotiation, Unions NSW are, and that’s appropriate.”
The strike comes after workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking protected industrial action last week.
On Monday, the union announced it would take two forms of action. Workers will wear union campaign material including badges from January 19, and an indefinite ban on overtime will be in place from January 25.
Figures released by the union show 94 per cent of voting Sydney Trains workers were in favour of striking for up to 72 hours, while 90 per cent of NSW Trains workers who voted were in favour.
An overwhelming majority of workers who voted in the ballot were also in favour of stopping work for a week or more.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald