Perrotet government deliberately escalates rail dispute for political ambitions

Photo by Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Contributed from New South Wales

Saying that the relationship between the New South Wales government and the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) has hit rock bottom is stating the obvious. This can’t be passed off as merely a stoush between the industrial relations minister, Damien Tudehope, and the union’s office. The impasse follows years of frustration of those working in the industry. They feel ignored and maltreated. The union responds to this, and the government reacts by digging in.

The current dispute has been marked by a series of false resolutions. Agreements have been reached several times, only to be broken by the government. The current one headed by premier Dominic Perrotet is continuing this tradition. Just days ago, progress was in the air. This came to an abrupt halt, after the government put out a new ultimatum. An offer containing terms to obviously infuriate the workforce, backed by threat to rip up existing conditions and impose worse, if the offer is not agreed to by Friday 5pm.

Photo by Bianca De Marchi/AAP: The NSW premier Dominic Perrotet

A move like this is calculated to escalate the dispute, not reach an agreement. Tudenhope and Perrotet want a victory badly, and to show a humiliating defeat for the union and public transport workers.

There are several issues tied to the feeling on the job. The first is the lack of respect for and valuing from the government, of the work done to keep the public transport system operating. There is concern over the culling of jobs and occupational health and safety concerns, and like most others, there is the slide in the value of wages.

A short strike on Wednesday was used as the catalyst for the government’s tactic, and it was launched, not as an outcome of a failed meeting with the union, at a press conference.

There has been long running  conflict over safety concerns relating to the new intercity trains. The design and the eventual elimination of guards poses a risk to both rail workers and the public, according to the union side. The government had previously agreed to ground the fleet and carry out safety modifications. It is now threatening to break this agreement because of ongoing conflict over current negotiations for a new enterprise agreement.

Limited industrial action within a legal bargaining period under industrial relations legislation has taken place. It involved a few short stoppages. But it has been a ban on inspecting tickets, which has given Sydneysiders free travel, that has rankled Tudenhope and Perrotet the most. For them and their government this is about showing the wider public that they are in control. The industrial dispute has been turned into a political showdown.

Union members are discussing their options over the next few days, and they are likely to reject the threat. The Perrotet government is in a good position to suffer a significant defeat, one which will be of its own making and thoroughly deserved.

It would only take a touch of decency, common sense, and showing that rail workers are valued, to put an end to this dispute.

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