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

RTBU, Metro Trains reach in principle enterprise deal

The Rail Tram & Bus Union (RTBU) has announced an in-principle agreement has been reached in its ongoing negotiations with Metro Trains Melbourne over a new enterprise agreement for its operations workforce.

RTBU secretary Luba Grigorovitch welcomed the agreement, but said it had taken longer than necessary to reach.

“In beggars belief that it took Metro six months to finally agree to what is largely an unchanged enterprise agreement,” Grigorovitch said on October 21.

“This agreement protects and maintains workers’ long-standing conditions as well as introducing new clauses to the agreement.

“Just as importantly, the new agreement also introduces a uniform disciplinary procedure and improved consultation and dispute resolution procedures, ensuring our members will be treated more fairly at work.”

Grigorovitch described the in-principle deal “a win for the membership,” and said the union “is proud of the result”.

“It is however regrettable that Metro dragged this process out so long and forced RTBU members to take industrial action,” she campaigned.

“This agreement ensures that an appropriate balance has been struck between protecting our members’ conditions and laying the best foundation possible so Melbourne can have a world-class transport system.”

Union officials will now conduct workplace visits to brief members on the new deal.

Enterprise agreement negotiations are still underway for a further two enterprise agreements, covering Metro’s rolling stock and infrastructure divisions.

MUA banners. Photo: Jim Wilson

Marriage talks between CFMEU, MUA

Labour of love or a marriage of convenience? Two of Australia’s most blue-collar unions are considering walking down the aisle.

Talks are underway for a marriage of two of the nation’s most formidable labour bodies, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

A joint statement released by the unions said discussions were underway on a possible merger with CFMEU officials Michael O’Connor, Dave Noonan, and Tony Maher meeting today in Sydney with the MUA national council, with a formal proposal to go to the MUA national conference in February.

In the statement, MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said the potential merger would create Australia’s most powerful union and better serve the membership.

“We have been presented with a monumental opportunity to represent working men and women in the Australian workplace without losing the long and proud history of our union,” Crumlin said.

“The MUA is no stranger to mergers and since the Waterside Workers’ Federation and the Seaman’s Union of Australia amalgamated in 1993…

“This is a huge decision that hasn’t been taken lightly, but discussions to merge with the like-minded CFMEU will help us fight the ever-pervasive anti-worker and anti-union attacks on workers and their entitlements and job security.”

CFMEU national secretary Michael O’Connor said his union would welcome a merger.

“The MUA offers us a chance to strengthen our politics within the CFMEU, because the struggle isn’t just about increasing wages, or creating a safe work site, there is also a bigger and important political struggle,” he said.

“We’re very conscious of the MUA’s identity and we want to make it clear that this is a merger of equals.”

The proposal comes at a time when the CFMEU has been under immense pressure at the Trade Union Royal Commission and the Labor Party faces calls to distance itself from this arm of the labour movement.

The MUA might also get a boost considering the decline in Australian-flagged shipping means it no longer has the same number of mariners from which to draw a membership.

It’s worth the existing close cooperation between the unions, with CFMEU members bolstering MUA picket lines during the recent dispute with stevedoring business Hutchison.

This article originally appeared in Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia. See the original here.

Flinders Street Station, Melbourne. Photo: Creative Commons / Adam J.W.C.

‘Contest of ideas’ hailed with Infrastructure Victoria creation

In an echo of Mao Zedong’s “let 100 flowers bloom”, Victoria’s new infrastructure czar, Jim Miller, has talked of a “contest of ideas” in determining future priority projects for the state.

Miller has been appointed inaugural chairman of Infrastructure Victoria, with responsibility for developing a 30-year infrastructure strategy for the state.

The creation of IV and the appointment of Miller have been largely welcomed by industry, although there have been some grumbles as to how much independence the new body will enjoy.

“The development of the 30 year infrastructure strategy will be a contest of ideas that we encourage everyone to get involved in,” Miller said in a statement.

“Infrastructure Victoria will provide independent and expert advice on infrastructure matters but it will not be the font of all knowledge.

“To develop a long term strategy that maps out the best way to deliver the best projects at the best times will require input from stakeholders, business, industry and the community.”

Infrastructure Victoria was formally established this month, with the Infrastructure Victoria Act 2015 and appointment of the board.

The seven-member board comprises Jim Miller (chair), Maria Wilton (deputy chair), Professor Margaret Gardner AO, Ann Sherry AO, Chris Eccles, David Martine and Adam Fennessy.

A search is underway for a chief executive.

Miller said the board was excited to be leading a new approach to infrastructure planning.

“I think everyone agrees that we need to do things differently to get the best outcomes for the state,” he said.

“There will be some big conversations to be had over the coming months, and no doubt some tough decisions to be made, but the board is excited and honoured to be involved.”

Public consultation on the 30-year strategy is to start early next year.

Opposition infrastructure spokesman Ryan Smith publicly questioned whether the government had seriously de-politicised keys decisions.

“In 2007, former Premier Steve Bracks said that Sir Rod Eddington had ‘great credentials in the transport industry worldwide and in Australia’ and his report would be ‘comprehensive’ and provide ‘good, long-term planning to make Victoria a much more liveable state’,” Smith said.

“A year later (current treasurer) Tim Pallas expressed his ‘gratitude’ to Sir Rod Eddington for completing an independent report that was ‘his own work’.

“A couple of months later, then Premier John Brumby said that meeting the infrastructure recommendations of the Eddington Report would involve construction ‘for the best part of a decade’.

“Since then, most of those independent recommendations for infrastructure projects have been trashed.”

Smith said three of the departmental secretaries on the board were duty bound to implement government policy and thus were unlikely to be independent.

Despite the criticism from the Opposition, many groups welcomed the Infrastructure Victoria board announcement. Among them, the Australian Logistics Council.

“The Australian Logistics Council welcomes today’s announcement of the Infrastructure Victoria board and congratulates its inaugural chairman, Jim Miller,” said Michael Kilgariff, ALC managing director.

“Mr Miller has a long and distinguished career in the infrastructure sector, and he, along with his fellow board members, provides the board with significant experience and expertise in the area of infrastructure funding and delivery.”

Kilgariff indicated he believed IV could remove some of the politics from decision making.

“The establishment of Infrastructure Victoria to oversee a pipeline of infrastructure projects across electoral cycles represents an important step towards taking politics out of infrastructure planning and implementation,” he said.

“In particular, it is essential that the movement of freight receives equal consideration to the movement of people.

“As ALC outlined on its submission on the Infrastructure Australia national audit, there needs to be a greater focus on analysing Australia’s long term infrastructure needs, particularly in regards to ports.”

This was particularly relevant given the impending privatisation of the Port of Melbourne.

“In that vein, we see Infrastructure Victoria playing an important role in analysing Victoria’s future port needs, a point ALC made in its submission on the Port of Melbourne lease bill,” he said.

“This review should not only consider whether a second port in Melbourne is necessary, but also issues such as whether land protection mechanisms to ensure the efficient movement of freight to and from ports are adequate and need to be strengthened.”

Also supporting the IV announcement was the Victorian Transport Association (VTA), which released a statement saying it hoped Victoria could finally plan and build the big transportation infrastructure projects that had been lacking for several years.

“The VTA has always supported the establishment of an independent body that can prioritise and plan for the big, long-term infrastructure needs of the state,” said chief executive Peter Anderson.

“Victoria hasn’t initiated a new major road infrastructure project for ten years, and this is largely because politics have impeded the ability of successive state governments to make – and stand by – major road infrastructure decisions.

“We are hopeful that this independent body can fulfil its charter of providing fair, balanced and non-partisan infrastructure planning and advice so that we can start to tackle long-term infrastructure challenges that will only worsen as our state grows, and the population increases,” he said.

“We wish the board every success, and offer our assurance and willingness to contribute.”

Anderson said the top infrastructure priority for the VTA is the North East Link connecting the Eastern Freeway with the Metropolitan Ring Road.

“The lack of connectivity of Melbourne’s major freeway network has massive impacts on the productivity of operators and this is most apparent in the north east of Melbourne.

“There is no direct link between the Eastern Freeway and the Ring Road, and with curfews on trucks on arterial roads at night, the only alternative for drivers is to go around – which is costly and time-consuming, or use small roads – which is unsafe.”

This article was originally published in the print edition of Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia.

Bob Herbert, chairman of ARA. Photo: ARA / Shutterstock

Herbert made ARA chairman

Bob Herbert has been appointed as the chairman of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), after serving as the interim chair during the turnover period of recent months.

Herbert took over as interim chair of the rail lobby group following the departure of chief executive Bryan Nye, and chairman Lindsay Tanner – who was completing a planned two-year term – in April. The leadership change was part of the ARA’s split with the Rail Industry and Safety Standards Board (RISSB), announced earlier this year.

A three-month review, led by Herbert, resulted in the appointment of Danny Broad as the ARA’s new chief executive in August.

Herbert will add the ARA role to an already impressive list: he is also the chairman of the Melbourne Cricket Ground Trust, the deputy chairman of Industry Capability Network, the chairman of the TrackSAFE Foundation, and the director of TrackSAFE New Zealand.

Herbert was recognised in 2004 by the Victorian Government and the Manufacturing Industry Consultative Council, for “exceptional services to the Victorian manufacturing industry,” and was admitted to the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame.

In 2005, Herbert was made a Member of the Order of Australia, the citation reading “for services to industry, particularly in the area of industrial relations reform, industry training and skills development”.

Herbert was a non-executive director of Skilled Group from 2003 to 2015.

Prior to that in 1998, he brought about the merger between MTIA and the Australian Chamber of Manufactures, to form the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), one of Australia’s significant national industry representative organisations.

Until February 2004 he was chief executive of Ai Group, having served for eight years in that role, and 30 years as a Director.

Herbert was a non-executive director of MainCo Melbourne – the joint venture of UGL Rail & Connex to maintain the Melbourne rail network – between 2004 and 2010.

His past work also includes leadership roles at the Superannuation Trust of Australia, the Emergency Services Superannuation Board, the CSIRO Manufacturing Advisory Council, the Birmingham University Business School Advisory Board, IXC International, the Enterprise Connect Advisory Board, and the Trade Union Education Foundation.

Coal wagons Aurizon. Photo: Aurizon

Aurizon to shut sites, invest in intermodal

Aurizon has kicked off its three-year operations transformation program by announcing planned closures of sites in Rockhampton and Townsville, in Queensland.

The Brisbane-headquartered rail operator plans to close its Locomotive and Wagons Maintenance Depots in Rockhampton, with work to be consolidated to the nearby Rockhampton Heavy Maintenance Facility.

The Rockhampton closure is expected to result in 17 job losses, while further rationalisation and outsourcing of some non-core and site service activities at the Rockhampton Heavy Maintenance Facility will see 23 more jobs cut, the company said.

Aurizon also plans to close the Wheelshop at its Townsville Workshop in December 2015, six months earlier than the previously announced closure date of June 2016.

The Townsville closure would see 34 jobs lost.

For now, the Townsville work will be absorbed into existing facilities in Rockhampton and Redbank. But Aurizon is investing in a $50 million, highly-automated wheel machining shop to deliver the work currently performed in Townsville, Rockhampton and Redbank.

The new facility would be located in Central Queensland, adjacent to the coal network, at a site to be determined, Aurizon said.

The closure and consolidation plans are part of the company’s next three-year phase of the operational transformation program announced in mid-2013.

Aurizon says the changes acknowledge a tough economic environment for its customers, especially in the resources sector, and the short to medium term impact this is having on freight tonnages and revenue.

On Wednesday, the company commenced consultation with employees in Rockhampton and Townsville in Queensland on the proposed changes.

“The aim is to remove surplus maintenance capacity and deliver core work more efficiently and at a lower cost,” Aurizon said in a statement.

Intermodal investment

Also on Wednesday, Aurizon announced a $40 million investment in a new intermodal terminal, to be co-located with existing rail activities at Stuart, south of Townsville.

The company said the terminal would sit “strategically on the juncture of the north coast (Brisbane to Cairns) and north-west (Townsville to Mount Isa) rail and road corridors”.

“This will facilitate removal of all rail activities from inner-Townsville by June 2016, allowing potential redevelopment and urban revitalisation in collaboration with the private sector and local and state governments,” Aurizon said.

Aurizon coal train. Photo: Aurizon

Moving more coal with less workers, wagons and fuel: Aurizon outlines plan

Up to 740 jobs will be slashed by Aurizon over the next three years in a push to cut $300 million in costs and boost operational productivity.

Aurizon announced on Wednesday it wants a 4 to 7% reduction in operational costs over the next three years.

To do that, it will reduce its workforce by between 529 and 740 full time equivalent (FTE) roles (a reduction of 10 to 14%), remove as many as 45 locomotives and 698 wagons from its active fleet, and increase its locomotive availability by 2 to 3%.

While that’s going on, Aurizon says it will boost labour productivity by 20 to 25%, lift locomotive utilisation by 15 to 20%, and raise wagon utilisation by 12 to 15%.

At the same time, the operator aims to improve fuel efficiency by 7 to 10%.

A slide from Aurizon’s investor presentation. Graphic: Aurizon.

Aurizon’s executive vice president of operations Mike Franczak told investors on Wednesday the company was able to make these ambitious targets due to new technology, and the enterprise agreements signed with staff this year.

“The enterprise agreements grandfathered to Aurizon at IPO were not competitive and did not support transformation,” Franczak said in his presentation. Aurizon became a publicly-listed company when it was spun off from Queensland Rail and floated in an initial public offering (IPO) by the Queensland Government in July 2010.

The three new enterprise agreements signed by Aurizon and its staff this year will allow the company to make the staff cuts it has projected, and reduce the ability of unions “to delay critical change initiatives”, Franczak explained.

A number of measures in the enterprise agreement signed with train crew and transport operators, in particular, are projected to help productivity targets.

Roster planning changes allowed for a 5 to 10% increase in crew and driver availability, resulting in a reduction of staff required by 65 FTEs. The changes also allow for a 3 to 6% uplift in footplate – the time on a shift crews spend actually driving trains.

Franczak also pointed out the operations contract changes could result in an up to 10% improvement in absenteeism, a 15 to 20% reduction in overtime costs, along with other productivity gains.

Further cost cutting and productivity gains would be found in Aurizon’s rollingstock engineering and maintenance operations.

The closure and consolidation of surplus depots could eliminate “surplus headcount,” while the use of electronic rollingstock examination capability to enable predictive, condition-based maintenance would also improve efficiency, Franczak explained.

“Wayside condition monitoring is an example of our maintenance transformation,” he said.

Aurizon’s share stayed roughly stable on Wednesday, when the presentation was made; it opened at $5.15 a share and closed at $5.13, down 0.4%.

ARTC hiring women in Hunter. Photo: Youtube / ARTC

Strong response to ARTC’s women only Hunter recruitment

The Australian Rail Track Corporation has welcomed a strong response to its latest equality push, with more than 100 women turning up to an information session for its ‘women only’ employment drive.

The national rail network owner was recently granted an exemption from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, allowing it to advertise a number of maintenance positions in its Hunter Valley business unit exclusively to female applicants.

The manoeuvre is part of the ARTC’s drive to increase  the number of women in its workforce to 30%. Its workforce currently comprises just 18% women, and in its Hunter Valley business unit, that figure is just 12%.

An information session, held on Sunday in Muswellbrook, showed a strong response to the move.

“We were really pleased with the turnout and the calibre of the women that attended the information session to find out more about ARTC and the roles,” ARTC executive general manager of the Hunter Valley Jonathan Vandervoort said.

The ARTC says more than 400 applications have been received for the roles in only the first week of the recruitment campaign.

“To put this into perspective, early last year we had a recruitment campaign for infrastructure maintainers and while the wording of the advertisements clearly encouraged women to apply for the roles, we only had three female applicants,” Vandervoort said.

“This is a great turnaround and reinforces the approach we are taking with this campaign.”

Unless it is justifiable for the role in question, hiring people based on their race, religion, age, gender, sexual preference, nationality, etc., is disallowed by the Anti-Discrimination Act NSW (1977). But under Section 126 of that act, a company can attain a defined exemption from that regulation for a valid purpose.

In this case the ARTC was granted an exemption to advertise roles only to women, as part of a push to increase its female workforce.

Vandervoort says the move has been a positive one so far.

“Given the quality, interest and number of enquiries, the challenge for us is now to go through the great applications we have had and select the successful applicants,” he said.

“We really have been fortunate with the level of quality of responses received and the number of women interested in building a career with ARTC.

“We are also encouraging women to get their application in as soon as possible as we may need to close off the application process earlier than expected given the high level of interest.”

The ARTC’s anti-discrimination exemption will apply until July 6, 2017.

RTBU cancels industrial action

Melbourne Metro trains will not be impacted by planned industrial action this week, after the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) announced on Friday it would cancel plans to strike for four hours on Thursday.

In a brief statement on Friday night, RTBU state secretary Luba Grigorovitch said progress had been made in negotiations between the union and Metro Trains, over a new work agreement.

The sides have been at loggerheads over the new deal for some time now, with the union announcing last week that it planned to ban its members from wearing company uniforms all week from Tuesday, September 29, as part of lawful industrial action against the company.

Drivers were also planning to refuse to skip stations on Friday, October 2, and were planning a number of other measures, including a four-hour stop-work meeting between 10am and 2pm on Thursday, October 1.

All that has been cancelled – or at least put on hold – by this latest announcement.

“I’m optimistic we can work through the remaining issues by end of Monday as we continue to strive for a fair enterprise agreement,” Grigorovitch said.

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

Strikes, other measures coming to Metro Trains next week

Metro Trains workers will refuse to check tickets on Grand Final Day, and will strike for four hours on October 1, as part of a set of industrial actions planned to take place on the Melbourne network next week.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) secretary Luba Grigorovitch announced the plans on September 23, saying negotiations over a new work agreement were not progressing as the union would like.

“We have continued to meet with the company [Metro Trains] to bargain through the parties’ claims, but Metro seems adamant about stripping away important working conditions,” Grigorovitch said.

“Metro has failed to address concerns about working conditions so our members have resolved to commence a week of industrial action on Tuesday next week, with some additional action (such as a uniform ban for drivers) to continue indefinitely.”

RTBU members will refuse to wear company uniforms all week from Tuesday, September 29.

They will hold a four-hour stop work meeting of all staff between 10am and 2pm on Thursday, October 1.

Drivers will refuse to skip stations on Friday, October 2, and will not report late running trains.

Workers will refuse to inspect myki ticketing cards on AFL Grand Final Day, October 3.

On October 4, drivers will refuse to drive trains without first checking that PA systems are operations. And on October 5, drivers will refuse to drive trains until they have checked that both headlights are working.

Grigorovitch insisted the action was aimed at hurting Metro’s hip pocket, rather than the travelling public.

“Metro’s practice of altering train timetables at the last minute and skipping stations just so that it can receive bonus payments from the government will be a target of the bans,” she said.

“These actions will send a clear message to Metro that it needs to acknowledge the contribution our members make to the company’s record profits.

“If Metro is serious about getting an agreement it needs to rethink its strategy of repackaging previous offers with minor changes in the hopes our members will be conned into accepting sweeping changes to their fundamental working conditions.”

The RTBU has represented members in recent months in a pair of disputes: one for a new work deal for Metro Trains workers, the other for a new deal for Yarra Trams workers.

Negotiations on the trams side of things appear to have improved, with the news last week the sides are closing on a mutual agreement.

Wooden railway sleepers. Photo: Creative Commons / LooiNL

KiwiRail to pay $110,000 for contractor struck by train

New Zealand rail operator KiwiRail has accepted the judgement of the Auckland District Court, which ordered it pay $110,000 to the family of a Downer contractor who was severely injured when the digger he was operating was struck by a train in the central North Island region in June 2014.

KiwiRail group general manager Todd Moyle said the state-owned business, which is responsible for rail operations in New Zealand, would willingly pay reparations to the family of Paul Anderson, who has spent more than 12 months in hospital after the incident.

“KiwiRail completed a thorough investigation of what happened and found that we had not taken all practical steps to ensure that everyone working at the site was off the track before a train came through,” Moyle said.

“As a result, this terrible accident occurred.”

According to WorkSafe New Zealand, the incident occurred on June 17, 2014, when Anderson – a Downer contractor – was carrying out work for KiwiRail in a digger on the Raurimu Spiral, National Park.

Worksafe says KiwiRail track workers gave a north-bound goods train permission to drive through the site, and the train did not have time to stop once the digger came into view.

Anderson sustained severe traumatic brain injury and severe chest and lung trauma, according to WorkSafe.

“Multiple failings by KiwiRail have had a devastating impact on the victim’s life,” WorkSafe chief inspector Keith Steward said, adding that the incident was entirely preventable.

“[Anderson] continues to live with these tragic consequences to this very day.

“Every worker has a right to trust that their employer is looking out for their safety and that the necessary safey precautions and systems for managing potential risks are in place.”

Moyle says KiwiRail has made changes following reviews into the safety procedures across its rail network.

“We recognised that we needed to do more to protect our teams when they are working on the network and make sure that no trains enter worksites unless all workers and all equipment is off the track.

“As a result of these changes, all worksites across the country now have a register to record all personnel and vehicles operating near the tracks.”

Additionally, KiwiRail has introduced a ‘lock-on lock-off’ procedure.

Moyle explains: “Before going on to the track everyone at a site, whether working or visiting, is issued with a padlock which has to be attached to a board held by the site protector. When the person comes off the track, they remove their padlock. A train will be allowed to pass through the site only when all padlocks are removed.”

Moyle offered his sincere apologies to Anderson’s family.

“They live every day with the consequences of this accident and while we make the reparations willingly, we understand no amount of money can change what happened.

“The safety of everyone who works for us and who travels with us is our primary concern, and we will continue to work to prevent an accident like this from happening again.”