Melbourne Tram. Photo: RailGallery

Tram drivers to strike on Thursday

Yarra Trams workers will go on strike for four hours on Thursday, the latest move in an ongoing saga between the Rail Tram and Bus Union and Melbourne’s tram and rail operators over new employment deals.

The planned four hour work stoppage, between 10am and 2pm, will impact tram services for a total of six hours, according to Yarra Trams.

Yarra Trams, a subsidiary of Keolis Downer, said Thursday’s strikes would impact services between 9am and 3pm, with extra time needed to return trams to depots in the morning, and to bring trams out of the depots in the afternoon.

RTBU Tram and Bus Division secretary Phil Altieri accused Keolis Downer of increasing profits while telling the union they couldn’t afford to increase wages as much as workers might like.

“[Keolis Downer] cry poor and say they can’t afford to run the system without stripping away our members’ conditions but the facts do not support this,” Altieri said ahead of the strikes.

“Every year they have had the contract their revenue has grown and their profit last year was more than 41% higher than their first full year of operating the franchise.

“Their claims that they need to strip away our members’ conditions in order to remain viable are ludicrous.

“They are, in fact, now earning more revenue per employee than ever before.”

Altieri’s assertion the tram operator is ‘crying poor’ follows similar allegations against rail operator Metro Trains by RTBU Victoria secretary Luba Grigorovitch last week.

Grigorovitch, talking on the union’s continued negotiations for a work deal for Metro workers, said the MTR Corporation – the Hong Kong-based business responsible for Metro Trains – has enough money to pay workers what they are asking for.

“Metro is part of a global conglomerate,” Grigorovitch said ahead of the Metro Trains strike last Friday, September 4. “They are big and rich enough to provide decent wages and conditions for public transport workers.”

Southern Cross railway station. Photo: RailGallery

Parsons Brinckerhoff gets new ANZ transport director

Engineering and design firm Parsons Brinckerhoff has named the its new director of transport for the Australia and New Zealand region.

The company’s Asia Pacific chief executive and president Guy Templeton announced Charlie Jewkes as the new director of transport for Australia this week.

Jewkes joined the business as its geotechnical and tunnelling section executive in 2006, and has been appointed to several key management roles since then, Templeton explained.

“Charlie’s appointment to the role of director of transport reflects our commitment to further expand what is a key national and global capability,” Templeton said.

“Charlie has strong client relationships across the region and proven skills in delivering major transport infrastructure projects and leading high-performing teams.”

In the past Jewkes has held leadership roles on some of the region’s major infrastructure projects, including CLEM7 and the Airport Link and Northern Busway in Queensland, the East West Link in Victoria, and the Victoria Park Tunnel and Waterview Connection in New Zealand.

Parsons Brinckerhoff, based in New York, was acquired by Canadian management and consultancy business WSP Global in 2014. The Canadian business bought Parsons Brinckerhoff from Balfour Beatty for roughly US$1.24 billion.

Templeton said Parsons Brinckerhoff was enjoying a positive market for transport in the Australia and New Zealand region.

“The buoyancy of the market means for the first time in many years we have major transport infrastructure opportunities in every region of Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

“This year WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff has grown our ANZ transport team by over 10% and we are on track for a headcount in excess of 650 by the end of 2015.

“Our Western Australian and New Zealand teams in particular have experienced a strong period of growth with teams in both regions diversifying and expanding capability to service our clients.”

Melbourne Metro train. Photo: Creative Commons / Marcus Wong

Friday strike confirmed, Union claims Metro is milking it

The Rail Tram and Bus union says Melbourne passenger operator Metro Trains has cancelled too many services in response to planned strike action between 10am and 2pm on Friday.

Metro Trains announced a revised timetable for customers on Friday, with roughly 700 services cancelled across the network.

But the RTBU, which said last week it would take measures to ensure the strike only impacted the network for four hours, claims the rail operator cancelled more services than it had to.

The union says that the V/Line services – which will not stop through the city network – could still run with the staff provided by the union.

“The RTBU has repeatedly told Metro that enough signalling staff will be available to work on Friday, despite the stoppage, so that V/Line trains would be unaffected,” the union said.

The union says when it announced the strikes it sat down with Metro’s Signalling Manager and agreed on arrangements to allow V/Line services to run as usual.

In the days that followed, the union says it called and wrote to Metro’s Director of Operations to confirm the union’s agreement to ensure workers would cover enough signal boxes to enable third party services such as V/Line to operate as normal.

“On Tuesday, Metro rejected the RTBU’s offer for a skeleton staff of signallers to work during the stoppage,” the union claims.

“Despite this rejection by Metro, the RTBU has continued to volunteer signalling staff to cover the V/Line services on Friday.  As recently as [Thursday] morning, the RTBU wrote to Metro to confirm once again that signal staff would be available to work during the stoppage, so that regional commuters would not be affected by industrial action targeted at Metro.

“If V/Line services are affected by the strike on Friday, it will not be the union’s doing.”

Metro Trains CEO Andrew Lezala reportedly confirmed to News Corp. that with the timetables now in place, the strikes are confirmed to be going ahead on Friday.

“We have had to load up a new timetable, all driver rosters have been issued and it takes 48 hours to call the drivers and change the timetables,” Lezala was quoted as saying.

RTBU secretary Luba Grigorovitch said the union was “fed up with mistruths being spread about the impact of its industrial action”.

“The expected cancellation by Metro of a wide range of services on Friday beyond the four-hour stoppage period comes despite the RTBU’s repeated offers (including on the day of notifying action) to make staff available during the stoppage to ensure that all services which commence before 10am or after 2pm would run as timetabled,” Grigorovitch said.

Bill Shorten. Photo: Creative Commons / Orderinchaos

Hockridge joins push for Shorten to accept ChAFTA

Aurizon boss Lance Hockridge has joined a growing number of politicians and business leaders calling for Opposition leader Bill Shorten to support the proposed China Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA).

“It would be difficult to overstate the benefits the FTA with China will bring to Australia,” Hockrdige said in an address to the Australia China Business Council in Brisbane on Tuesday.

“Take as one example Aurizon’s customers in the Queensland coal sector, who are facing challenging times. The FTA will deliver them relief by cutting China’s import tariffs on our coal.”

Hockridge said the suggestion the FTA would hurt Australian jobs was “misinformation,” and said the agreement would actually help the jobs sector.

“[ChAFTA is] about job creation,” he said, “not job destruction as some would want the community to believe … the real benefit the FTA gives Australia is access to China’s large, and rapidly growing, middle class.”

Research from McKinsey, Hockridge said, indicated China’s middle class will grow from 200 million today to more than 600 million by 2022.

“What an opportunity in terms of a potential market for our professional services, for tourism, for education, and for our agricultural products,” the Aurizon boss campaigned.

“All this would be at risk if the campaign against the FTA was successful and ratification of the FTA was either blocked or stalled.”

ChAFTA, championed in Canberra by the Coalition, is being criticised by unions and the Australian Labor Party.

In recent days, however, state Labor leaders have called for the approval of the FTA. Victorian premier Daniel Andrews this week said, “The Chinese free trade agreement is good news for Victorian jobs and I support it.” And South Australian premier Jay Weatherill lent his support, saying the FTA “is a great way for us to underscore the fact that South Australia is open for business with China.”

NSW state Opposition leader Luke Foley and ACT chief minister Andrew Barr, both of the Labor party, also support the FTA. On top of that, Labor figureheads Bob Hawke, Simon Crean, Bob Carr and John Brumby have all lent their support.

Minister for trade and investment Andrew Robb welcomed the support from the Labor members, saying Opposition leader Bill Shorten was failing a “crucial test” by not approving the FTA.

“He needs to stop being led around by the nose by the CFMEU [trade union] and take a stand for jobs, growth and prosperity in this critical post-mining boom period,” Robb said on Wednesday.

“Make no mistake, if Labor seeks to obstruct this deal, China will walk away and pursue other opportunities with our competitors in places like South America,” Robb said. “This would be a dreadful outcome for our economy and Bill Shorten would be solely responsible.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott also criticised the Opposition leader, saying ChAFTA “means more jobs for Australians”.

“The only person standing in the way of jobs and the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement is Bill Shorten – who is taking instructions from his union masters and the CFMEU,” Abbott alleged.

“If Bill Shorten and the Labor Party try to reject the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement they will be sabotaging our economic future and they will be turning their back on one of the greatest opportunities our country has ever been offered.

“I say to Bill Shorten: listen to decent Labor people, and stop dancing to the tune of the CFMEU standing in the way of jobs for Australian workers.”

Shorten says the Labor party supports FTAs, but opposes “bad trade agreements”.

“Labor believes in the principle and benefits of free trade agreements,” the Opposition leader said on Tuesday. “But we want to make sure that these free trade agreements are putting Aussie jobs first.

“Yes, I am different to Mr Abbott. I don’t automatically sign a blank cheque and not worry about the consequences on Australian jobs.”

The man who almost had Shorten’s job, shadow transport minister Anthony Albanese, stood in lock-step with his leader on Radio National on Wednesday.

“What we want to make sure is that this agreement is in Australia’s national economic interests,” Albanese told host Michael Brissenden.

“There’s no doubt there will be benefits from free trade but you need to make sure there are simple provisions that mean Australians for example can benefit from the jobs that are created, that’s the objective of the free trade agreement.

“It’s not some ideological thing in itself. It’s about real, practical benefits. And we want to make sure that those practical benefits go to Australia and to Australian job creation in particular.”

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

Union turns on Labor in Victoria

The Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) has blasted the Victorian government, which it says has supported Metro Trains – and not union workers – throughout the ongoing labour dispute which is set to result in a four hour strike this Friday.

RTBU Victoria secretary Luba Grigorovitch on Wednesday said a Fair Work Commission appeal by Metro Trains to have the strike suspended was supported by the government.

The Fair Work Commission turned down the appeal, and the strike is set to take place between 10am and 2pm on Friday. While this was a small victory for the RTBU, Grigorovitch was alarmed at what she claimed was unfair support for Metro Trains’ side of the dispute from the Andrews Government.

“The government has mismanaged this dispute from day one,” the union leader said.

“At every step of the way they have supported Metro’s decision to take a hard line in negotiatons and their choice of aggressive legal tactics over genuine negotiations.”

Metro Trains is the operator of Melbourne’s metropolitan train network.

Grigorovitch said MTR Corporation, the Hong Kong based business that serves as parent company for Metro Trains, has enough money to pay workers what they are asking for.

“Metro is part of a global conglomerate,” she said.

“They are big and rich enough to provide decent wages and conditions for public transport workers. No one, let alone a Labor government, should support Metro’s efforts to boost their profits at the expense of their employees.”

Grigorovitch believes the government has made this lengthy dispute harder than it needs to be.

“This dispute wouldn’t have got to this point if the government had not taken sides and supported Metro’s heavy-handed tactics,” she argued.

“It is now time they accepted the umpire’s decision and bargain in good faith. The commission has ruled that our action is lawful and the government and Metro should rule out further legal action and commit to serious negotiations.”

Aurizon's new headquarters to open in 2018. Graphic: Google / Aurizon

New digs for Aurizon

Aurizon will move out of Brisbane’s city centre to a new building in Fortitude Valley in 2018.

Chief executive Lance Hockridge said on Monday the rail operator would move to 900 Ann Street, where construction will start on a new, custom-built 19,000m2 office tower in March 2016.

While the new office will be just a 10 minute drive up the road from Aurizon’s existing headquarters on Eagle Street, the new dedicated building will represent a much needed upgrade, Hockridge explained.

“We [need] to create competitive advantage as an employer of choice with a built environment that supported our drive to greater diversity, inclusiveness and collaboration across our workforce,” he said.

The 15-level tower, of which Aurizon will be the only resident, was designed by architect John Wardle and will be built by Hutchison Builders, according to a Fairfax report.

The new building will include a large conference centre. For employees the operator will offer a mezzanine foyer with coffee shop, ‘end-of-trip’ facilities (shower, locker rooms and bicycle parking), and easy access to transportation.

“We want to attract the best talent and nurture a high-performance culture that inspires collaboration, innovation and efficiency,” Hockridge said.

“The location provides a range of benefits for the company and our employees including excellent surrounding amenity, first class facilities, proximity to public transport and major transport networks, and accessibility to our major customers.”

More than just an improved facility, Hockridge said the move for a new building came at the right time in the market.

“The current market offered a fantastic opportunity for Aurizon to create a bespoke property that delivers benefits across all dimensions – cost and efficiency; environmental footprint; and a collaborative, flexible workspace,” he said.

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

Melbourne strike still on: targets Metro Trains, not public, union says

The Rail Tram & Bus Union (RTBU) will take measures to ensure the strike planned for Friday, September 4 will only impact Metro Trains services for the intended four-hour stretch.

“Our industrial action is aimed at Metro Trains not the travelling public,” RTBU Victoria secretary Luba Grigorovitch said. “We are doing everything we can to minimise disruptions to train services on Friday.”

The RTBU is engaged in lengthy bargaining disputes with both Metro Trains and Yarra Trams, the operators of Melbourne’s heavy and light rail networks respectively, over new work agreements for union members.

A four-hour strike on the tram network last week was criticised by some for having more than four hours of impact on commuters, due to the crossover of activities at the start and end of the strike action.

The union has vowed to get it right with Friday’s planned train strike.

“We have made this decision to ensure that every train scheduled to commence before 10am can complete its timetabled run,” Grigorovitch explained.

“Staff will also return to work in sufficient time so that every train schedule from 2pm onwards can run.

“We are taking these steps to ensure that any disruption to the travelling public is minimised and only effects those services scheduled between 10am and 2pm.”

The train strike was announced on August 26, in retaliation to Metro Trains’ alleged reaction to other industrial action originally planned for this week.

The RTBU had announced a pair of short early-morning strikes, as well as a number of on-site measures, including a ban on uniforms, a ban on checking Myki tickets, and other actions. But the union says Metro responded to this by threatening to lock-out workers who took part in such action.

“Metro has threatened our members that if they take part in the partial work bans they will be refused the opportunity to perform all other work and will not be paid,” Grigorovitch said last week.

“This is a crude attempt by Metro to intimidate our members from exercising their legal rights. The bans are protected industrial action and are allowed under the Fair Work Act.”

Grigorovitch insists the union would prefer to avoid industrial action, and would like to see an agreement reached by Friday.

“The RTBU remains available and willing to negotiate with Metro so Friday’s industrial action can be avoided,” she said.

Tensions escalate as train staff raise stakes

Melbourne train workers will strike for four hours next Friday after Metro Trains allegedly threatened to stand them down if they took part in a number of the less severe measures already planned by the Rail Tram & Bus Union.

RTBU secretary Luba Grigorovitch on Thursday, August 27 alleged the train operator had threatened to stand down union members for the days they planned to take part in industrial action next week.

The union announced earlier this week that for all of next week, its members would refuse to wear Metro Trains uniforms, and would refuse to check passengers for valid Myki tickets, along with a number of other measures including short early-morning strikes.

“Metro has threatened our members that if they take part in the partial work bans they will be refused the opportunity to perform all other work and will not be paid,” Grigorovitch alleged.

“This is a crude attempt by Metro to intimidate our members from exercising their legal rights. The bans are protected industrial action and are allowed under the Fair Work Act.”

In retaliation, the union now plans more severe action: a strike from 10am to 2pm on Friday, September 4.

“Our delegates are furious at Metro’s attempt to intimidate our members from taking industrial action that is allowed under the Fair Work Act,” Grigorovitch continued.

“Our bans next week will have limited impact on the travelling public while hitting Metro’s bottom line. Our members will continue to perform all of their duties apart from the limited bans and will be keeping the network running during this time.

“To threaten them with being stood down and not being paid for limited bans such as not wearing their uniform is heavy handed and shows the lengths Metro will go to in their attempts to stop our members from taking lawful industrial action.”

The development is part of a now five-month negotiation between the RTBU and Metro Trains – which is operated by Hong Kong-based MTR Corporation – over a new work deal.

“Metro has so far not been prepared to properly address a number of important issues such as length of the working day, overtime, rostering and disciplinary procedures,” Grigorovitch said. “If Metro is serious about reaching agreement they need to listen to our members’ concerns instead of trying to bully and intimidate them.”

Related: Tram workers to strike, train workers to go for Metro’s “hip pocket”


Melbourne Tram. Photo:

Tram workers to strike, train workers to go for Metro’s “hip pocket”

Melbourne tram drivers will go on strike for four hours on Thursday, August 27, after operator Keolis Downer’s request for intervention from the Fair Work Commission was dismissed. Metro Trains drivers, meanwhile, have planned a number of industrial measures for next week.

The Victoria branch of the Rail Tram & Bus Union (RTBU) is representing workers in a pair of ongoing employment negotiations: one with Yarra Trams, operated by Keolis Downer; the other with Metro Trains, operated by Hong Kong-based MTR Corporation.

Both workforces planned a strike last Friday, August 21, but this action was suspended when sides returned to the negotiating table in both cases.

But RTBU tram and bus divisional secretary Phil Altieri said on Tuesday, August 25 that talks had not improved, and a strike would go ahead for tram workers on Thursday.

“Despite further negotiations with Yarra Trams last week the offer made by the company on Friday is still a long way from being acceptable to our members,” he said.

“We have been in negotiations for a new enterprise agreement since April and the latest offer from Yarra Trams has not addressed our members’ concerns around conditions and wages.”

Altieri said the union continued to negotiate over the weekend and earlier this week, “but our members are frustrated by the failure to address our members concerns and have been left with no option but to take industrial action.”

Yarra Trams responded on Wednesday, saying it shared its customers’ frustration “that industrial action will affect their travel plans.”

Tram drivers will strike from 10am to 2pm on Thursday.

“Our first priority is the safety of our passengers, employees and the community and we will ensure that all contingency plans consider the wider community’s safety at all times,” Yarra Trams said. “Limited replacement buses will supplement existing train and bus services, with the aim of providing a way for the community to keep moving during the disruption.”

In a last-ditch attempt to keep services running, the tram operator applied to the Fair Work Commission earlier this week for an intervention, saying the work stoppage “is threatening to endanger the personal safety or health or the welfare of a part of the population of Melbourne who rely on public transport generally and tram services in particular”.

But Fair Work Commissioner Tim Lee rejected Yarra Trams’ application, saying he was not satisfied that the stoppage posed such a threat to health or safety.

On the heavy passenger rail side of things, the RTBU said on Wednesday that it would use next week to impose a number of industrial measures “aimed at Metro’s hip pocket, not the travelling public”.

Running all of next week, the train workers plan to refuse to wear company uniforms. They will also refuse to inspect Myki ticketing cards.

A ban is also planned on short arrivals and short departures, as well as a ban on station skipping between 9am and midnight.

A pair of work stoppages are also planned at this stage: a one-hour stoppage between 3am and 4am on Thursday, August 3 and a four-hour stoppage between 2am and 6am on Friday, August 4.

“The industrial action is aimed at hitting Metro where it hurts,” RTBU secretary Luba Grigorovitch said, “the hip pockets.

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

“Combined with early morning workplace stoppages, our bans will send a clear message to Metro that it is time to acknowledge the contribution our members make to Metro’s record profits.”

Melbourne tram. Photo State Government Victoria

Tram strike cancelled

Yarra Trams has announced trams will run as scheduled on Friday, August 21, after the Rail, Tram & Bus Union withdrew its planned stop work industrial action after conciliation with the Fair Work Commission.

The cancellation follows similar action from the train division of the Union, which was planning on running a concurrent strike of Metro Trains workers, between 10am and 2pm on Friday.

The RTBU is engaged with Yarra Trams and Metro Trains in simultaneous, but separate, enterprise bargaining processes.

“We will continue to negotiate with the RTBU and we call on the RTBU to withdraw planned industrial action set to take place next Thursday, 27 August,” Yarra Trams said on Wednesday.

“We are committed to reaching a fair and balanced agreement. We are prepared to sit at the negotiating table at any time, day or night.

“We have asked the union to avoid industrial action while members consider the offer and we will continue to be fully transparent with employees on negotiations.

“We will continue bargaining discussions and are set to meet again [on Thursday] at midday.”