Aurizon adds Macquarie banker to board

Macquarie Capital executive director Kate Vidgen will join rail group Aurizon as a non-executive director later this year.

Vidgen, currently responsible for Macquarie’s energy and resources sector investments, will join the Queensland-based rail operator on July 25 this year.

“I am delighted that Kate will be joining the Aurizon board,” chairman Tim Poole said.

“Kate has deep and current experience in the resources and infrastructure sectors.

“She has a strong understanding of our business, our customers and our opportunities and will be an outstanding addition to our board.”

On top of her role at Macquarie, Vidgen is also non-executive chairman of Quadrant Energy, a Perth-based private sector oil and gas company.

Prior to joining Macquarie in 1998, she was a solicitor with Mallesons, specialising in the energy sector.

According to a report in the AFR, Vidgen will stay with Macquarie after joining the Aurizon board, but the rail company has said it has “appropriate governance arrangements” to ensure conflicts of interest do not occur.

TrackSAFE launches employee wellbeing app on Rail R U OK?Day

The TrackSAFE Foundation has marked the 2016 Rail R U OK?Day by launching a new trauma support app aimed at helping the 110,000 employees of the Australian rail industry.

The RailRes app is designed to help employees manage their immediate responses to stress, and to help build their resilience.

“Train drivers, guards, station staff and other rail industry employees are often the first people on the scene when incidents take place on the network,” TrackSAFE Foundation executive director Naomi Frauenfelder said.

“Witnessing these events can cause severe mental, physical and emotional trauma.

“This is why the industry came together to found the TrackSAFE Foundation, so we could provide suicide prevention strategies, tools and advice to help our people feel safe and supported at work.”

Rail R U OK?Day was marked with an awareness-raising breakfast at Central Station on Thursday.

Brendan Maher, chief executive of suicide prevention charity R U OK?, says the charity’s partnership with TrackSAFE is invaluable.

Rail R U OK?Day, he says, is an opportunity for workmates to re-commit to being there for one another.

“Whenever you notice that someone is tired, a bit stressed, distracted by things happening at home, or is not themselves, take the time to check in with that person and see how they’re doing,” Maher said.

“It’s not about providing a solution or fixing their problem, it’s about letting them know they’re surrounded by people who care.”

Frauenfelder echoes: “Get behind Rail R U OK?Day today and any day a workmate’s struggling. By doing so, you’re helping to create workplaces where workmates feel connected and protected from suicide.”

Frauenfelder says the RailRes app is an industry first because it is the first rail-specific trauma support tool on offer through a mobile device.

“Rail employees can use the app to ‘test’ their response to stress and ‘adjust’ their physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural reactions to stress,” she said.

“The app provides a range of interactive and easy-to-use tools and exercises including progressive muscle relaxation and learning how to challenge and change negative or unhelpful thoughts.”

RTBU national secretary Bob Nanva is confident the app will help rail industry workers take control of stress and anxiety from the many pressures they are faced with.

“Working in the transport industry can be highly stressful and demanding, especially in the rail industry where millions of commuters are using the network everyday,” he said.

“Whether it’s a daily battle or an occasional episode, the effects of stress –or even trauma– can take a serious toll on productivity, and more importantly our workers’ health. Fortunately the new RailRes app can bring immediate stress management within easy reach.”

Handcuffs. Photo: Creative Commons

Up to 25 years for assaulting SA transport workers

South Australian public transport minister Stephen Mullighan says tough new penalties for assaulting public transport workers underline the state government’s “zero tolerance” approach.

Jail sentences of up to 25 years will apply to those found guilty of assaulting transport workers on Adelaide Metro buses, trains and trams, as well as passenger service assistants, and taxi and chauffeur vehicle drivers.

Changes to the Criminal Law Consolidation Act which come into effect on Friday will extend the aggravation of an offence against a public transport worker in the same way they extend to police, health and emergency service workers.

The new laws also mean rewards of up to $1,000 will be offered to people who provide information which leads to the arrest and conviction of offenders.

“Every worker deserves to feel safe in their workplace,” Mullighan said.

“There is absolutely no justification for violence anywhere on our public transport network.

“These new laws underline the State Government’s zero tolerance approach, particularly when it comes to our passenger transport workers, because even one assault is one too many.”

Penalties will be increased across a range of offences including violent offences such as assaults, acts endangering life, recklessly or intentionally causing harm through to crimes such as theft.

The penalty for these offences will increase by up to 50%.

“We are sending a clear message to all South Australians that we will not tolerate any act of violence towards the people who work on our public transport services, whether they are drivers, security officers or any other staff,” Mullighan said.

The state government is conducting an extensive public awareness campaign featuring posters, videos, stickers and social media to warn of the tougher penalties.

QR teams up with TAFE for training centre

Queensland Rail has officially opened its new off-site training facility, in conjunction with TAFE Queensland SkillsTech at its Acacia Ridge campus.

The new state-funded Rail Centre of Excellence features classrooms and office space for theory based learning.

It also includes track, signalling and overhead infrastructure, designed to simulate a rail work environment.

State transport minister Stirling Hinchliffe said the facility was the only simulated rail work environment in Queensland.

“The Queensland Government is committed to increasing job opportunities for Queenslanders and this new facility will open up further career possibilities for people interested in entering the rail industry, learning rail-specific skills or studying a trade at SkillsTech,” Hinchliffe said.

Queensland Rail plans to use the centre for its in-house training programs, which educate around 300 employees each year.

When it’s not being used by QR, the centre will allow SkillsTech to introduce a number of new, rail-specific fields to their curriculum, Hinchliffe said.

“The rail industry has been one of Queensland’s largest employers for more than 150 years,” he said.

“Queensland Rail continues to be a strong supporter of apprentices and trainees.

“Just last year, Queensland Rail employed 24 new apprentices and trainees right across the state in trades such as electrical, mechanical, carriage building, painting, blacksmithing, carpentry, administration and warehousing.”

State minister for training and skills Yvette D’Ath said the centre would enable more local students to pursue a career in the rail industry.

“This partnership will provide students at SkillsTech with a unique opportunity to access some of the skills required to work in the rail industry,” D’Ath said.

“This centre will not only ensure Queensland Rail’s in-house training programs continue to improve in line with education standards, but it will also provide SkillsTech students with greater access to some of the skills required to work in the rail industry.

“Through the new Rail Centre of Excellence, SkillsTech’s trainers and assessors would be able to work closely with Queensland Rail content experts to share knowledge, expertise and technical skills.

“The new Centre will provide great benefits for SkillsTech staff and students.”

D’Ath suggested that along with enabling rail-specific fields of expertise to be introduced, the centre would also support existing trade training requirements, in areas like electrotechnology, engineering, metalwork and fabrication.

TrackSAFE joins fight for Government focus on suicide

COMMENT: Coming off the back of the new reports released from the ABS indicating suicide as the leading cause of premature deaths in Australia, the TrackSAFE Foundation executive director Naomi Frauenfelder adds her voice to the growing number calling for governments to respond to the issue as a national crisis.

As a harm prevention charity, we at the TrackSAFE Foundation continuously work to reduce fatalities specifically on our rail network, while providing best practice trauma support for rail employees.

Annually there are around 150 fatalities resulting from rail suicide on our network. This has a profound and lasting impact on train drivers and other rail employees impacted as well as the greater community.

With new ABS statistics indicating the number of people taking their own lives has reached a decade-high in Australia, the rail industry is showing deep concern and believes federal government needs to give the issue its full attention. Both political parties are required to take action and demonstrate that this is an issue that the government takes seriously, as it affects everyone.

Too many Australians are dying premature deaths as a result of suicide. And on the other side of the coin, stigma is interfering with mental health care. I find myself lamenting the fact that despite centuries of learning about the brain, mental illness is still perceived as an indulgence and sign of weakness. How is it that talking to people and reaching out is embarrassing rather than critical?

When it comes to rail suicide, people don’t often think about that fact that this form of suicide is unique; it is one of the only methods that directly engages another person to undertake the actual act – the train driver.

The TrackSAFE Foundation was established by the rail industry, for the rail industry to address this serious issue and the affect these incidents have on rail employees.

The Australian rail industry takes a proactive approach to the emotional wellbeing of its 110,000 employees. Our nation’s rail organisations –be it freight and passenger operators, track owners, manufactures or suppliers– all take great care in creating a better workplace for rail employees. This culture within rail organisations comes from the top, as TrackSAFE’s Board of Directors consists of Chief Executives and senior rail personnel from across Australia’s rail operations.

Through the TrackSAFE Foundation, we partner with mental health organisations, (such as Lifeline, beyondblue, R U OK? and The Black Dog Institute) to provide rail organisations with the opportunities for staff to engage in conversations about their emotional status, as well as awareness of suicide.

Together we work to give rail staff the confidence and capacity to talk about life’s ups and downs and help them feel safe and supported whilst at work. Imagine if the same levels of concern from senior executives was duplicated across all Australian industries and professions.

It’s vital the nation responds to these alarming new suicide statistics and helps to stop deaths which are 100 per cent preventable. This effort involves everyone, we as a society need to take the time to learn about suicide, recognise the signs, identify if potential signs are around us at home or at work and help make sure that all Australians know that there is hope and ways to get and to give help.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

Rail worker manufacturing. Photo: / Courtesy of Bombardier

Unions the target of PM’s double dissolution threat

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has essentially presented the Senate with an ultimatum: pass laws to more strictly monitor the nation’s unions, or face a rare double dissolution election.

Turnbull made his move this week by having Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove recall parliament for a special three-week session, from April 18, and by setting a date of July 2 for a potential double dissolution, if they can’t work things out by then.

He also moved the federal budget forward from May 10 to May 3, clearing the way for the potential drama ahead.

A double dissolution of parliament would see the public vote on all 150 seats in the House of Representatives, and all 76 seats in the Senate. In a standard election, just half of the Senate is voted on, as Senators typically serve six-year terms.

The dramatic turn of events is all part of the prime minister’s efforts to pass through a pair of bills, both relating to the governance and monitoring of trade unions.

The first bill, rejected once by the Senate already, is to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the trade union watchdog established by the Coalition in 2005, and abolished by Labor when it was in power in 2012.

The second bill, which has been rejected twice by the Senate, would create another government body, the Registered Organisations Commission, to provide the government greater investigation and information gathering powers over unions.

In an interview with ABC’s 7.30 host Leigh Sales on Monday, the prime minister made his position clear.

“Many if not most Australians are well aware of the level of lawlessness and corruption and waste in the construction industry,” Turnbull said.

“The Heydon Royal Commission set it out very graphically, if we had reason to doubt it.

“There [are] about a hundred officials of the CFMEU and members of the CFMEU facing court proceedings at the moment.

“There has been a degree of lawlessness in that construction sector that was identified by the Cole Royal Commission years ago.”

The findings of the Cole Royal Commission over a decade ago led to the Howard Government’s creation of the ABCC – a body Turnbull says reduced disputes and improved productivity in the sector by 20%.

“[When] the Labor Party [was] in government, [Bill] Shorten in fact as the minister, abolished the ABCC and what have we seen: industrial disputes rising,” Turnbull said, “lawlessness rising.”

The PM pointed to statistics showing 70% of Australia’s industrial disputes take place in the construction sector.

“Heydon was right and I believe we are right in saying there should be a special regulator,” he concluded.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Turnbull’s manoeuvre was simply an indication the prime minister was “in full panic mode”.

“We’re not afraid of a double dissolution election,” Shorten said.

“Australians are not afraid of a double dissolution election either, they just want people to get on with their interests rather than playing political gains.”

Maritime Union votes for merger. Photo: MUA

Merger on the cards for MUA, CFMEU

Maritime Union of Australia members have voted in favour of merger talks with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, in a move which is set to create a single, more influential union across a number of the nation’s largest blue collar sectors.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin this week welcomed the vote, hailing Tuesday as a “historic day for the union”.

“This decision has the potential to transform the labour movement in Australia,” Crumlin said.

“This is the beginning of a great journey. We will go forward together as a genuine united front.”

Crumlin was adamant that union members did not stand to lose their distinctive culture through the move.

“A merger doesn’t mean [workers are] going to lose their identity,” he said in an interview with Channel 10. “What the merger means is they’re going to have more of a capability to fight back and protect their interests.”

Employers are concerned over the extensive reach the merged unions will now have, across and throughout the Australian economy.

“We’re concerned we’ll end up with double the militancy,” Master Builders Association boss Wilhelm Harnisch told 10. “These two militant unions can literally … lock up the nation.”

But CFMEU national secretary for construction Dave Noonan pointed out in  a statement that the unions have worked together in the past, on some of their biggest and most divisive issues.

“From 1998 [Patrick disputes] to the Hutchison dispute, from the anti-apartheid struggles, to Indonesian Independence, freedom for East Timor to the fight for land rights in our own country – these are the struggles that have defined our unions,” Noonan said.

CFMEU national secretary Michael O’Connor said the MUA’s vote was a “great result”.

“The resolution that was carried will be welcomed by the CFMEU when its executive meets later this week,” he said.

The CFMEU is also in merger talks with the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union, whose national secretary, Michele O’Neil, also addressed the conference of MUA workers who voted on Tuesday.

“We are a union with a lot of heart and a lot of street smarts,” O’Neil said, “we are able to use every possible tactic at our persuasion to win.”

Employment minister Michaelia Cash isn’t happy with the news.

Cash was quoted by Fairfax this week: “The fact that the two most militant unions in Australia are proposing to merge is extremely concerning.

“The potential merger of further unions to cover the majority of transport logistics across Australia should concern all Australians. This represents a major threat to productivity, jobs growth and economic prosperity.”

Parsons Brinkerhoff new hires. Photo: WSP|Parsons Brinkerhoff / WestNet Rail

Parsons Brinkerhoff adds to transport group

Engineering firm WSP|Parsons Brinkerhoff has recently added three senior leaders to its transport team.

The company said this week it has added Richard Boggon, Erica Adamson and Peter Letts in various leadership roles.

Boggon has re-joined the business as the general manager for Transport Services, while Adamson and Letts have been appointed as major project executives.

Recent work in the Australian transport sector by the engineer – which is known as WSP|Parsons Brinkerhoff after PB was acquired by WSP Global in 2014 – includes the rebuild of Glenfield Junction railway station and interchange in Sydney, and the Regional Rail Link project in Victoria.

WSP|Parsons  Brinkerhoff director of Transport Charlie Jewkes said Boggon would lead Transport’s operations and capability across Australia and New Zealand, while Letts and Adamson would provide leadership and guidance to major strategic bids and projects across the region.

“Erica, Peter and Richard have significant industry and key client experience which they bring most recently from Transport for NSW, NSW Roads and Maritime Services and from Ventia [respectively],” Jewkes explained.

“With our industry poised to pick up pace in 2016, WSP|Parsons Brinkerhoff has secured new leadership talent to support its ambitions to grow the company and strengthen its client offering.

“These individuals will provide key industry intelligence and support the planning and delivery of major projects across the ANZ transport market.”

The new hires will be based in the company’s Sydney office.

Still from 'The Driver'. Photo: Tim Russell

Aussie film highlights impact of fatalities on train drivers

A short film from Australian filmmaker Tim Russell aims to highlight the hidden victims of railway fatalities: train drivers.

‘The Driver’, which will premier this weekend at the Flickerfest International Film Festival, is a seven-minute short about a driver who returns to work after time off from encountering a rail fatality.

“Most train drivers will experience a fatality in their careers,” Russell says. “It’s not a case of if, it’s a case of when.”

According to TrackSAFE figures, there are more than 4000 near hits and collisions across Australia every year resulting from railway trespass incidents, and an estimated 150 suicide deaths.

“The driver is powerless to prevent the incident and forced to watch the horror unfold in front of them,” Russell explains.

Gary Tower is a retired driver who experienced rail fatalities during his forty-year career.

“It’s a harrowing experience that you never forget,” Tower says. “Some drivers aren’t able to return to work. If creating a film like this can raise awareness and save just one life, then it’s been worth it.”

Russell, who wrote and directed ‘The Driver’, spent time with train drivers in suburban Sydney during his research for the film.

“What really struck me was their camaraderie and the support they gave each other in a time of need,” he says. “The drivers are usually forgotten and I hope the film can shine a light on their lives.”

‘The Driver’ was developed as part of Metro Screen’s Breaks Program, and also received funding from Screen NSW. A trailer for the film can be viewed here.

The film will premier during a selection of Australian short films, at 8.45pm in the outdoor amphitheatre at Sydney’s Bondi Beach. Click here for more information.

Metro Trains Comeng EMU. Photo: Zed Fitzhume / Creative Commons

Metro used safety to selectively sack five, union claims

The Rail Tram & Bus Union claims Melbourne operator Metro Trains has sacked five of its members over an alleged safety concern which the union says was a systemic issue which should have been addressed by Metro long ago.

RTBU state secretary Luba Grigorovitch on Monday said a group of five workers had been sacked, two of whom were leading delegates in the union.

“Together these men hold almost 100 years of track safety experience,” Grigorovitch said.

“Today’s heavy handed decision by Metro to terminate a group of track maintenance workers, four days before Christmas, fails to address systemic safety issues in the industry.”

The union claims the workers were dismissed for alleged safety breaches, despite the fact that their actions were part of longstanding work practices, which the union says Metro has “failed to take seriously since taking control of the operation”.

“Failing to take localised action to improve safety and offer the training necessary to rectify these systemic issues, Metro management has negligently maintained the status quo, only now exploiting the issue to selectively eliminate this work group while others escape unscathed,” Grigorovitch claimed.

“If management are serious about improving safety and changing culture, not changing personnel, we need to see the promotion and education of safe work practices amongst and for workers.

“But the truth is, there has been little effort made by management to change and enforce these longstanding practices.”

Grigorovitch accused the passenger operator of unfairly treating workers, poorly applying policies, “sham contracting”, and short-changing the public on an “ongoing” basis.

“This year the RTBU has contacted Metro about safety on many occasions but little has been actioned by the company to deliver critical changes,” she claimed.

“Metro must do more to ensure proper processes, education, and training are delivered to workers in order to address safety issues in the network’s infrastructure maintenance department.”