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.”

Peter Harris, Productivity Commission chairman. Photo: David Sexton

Productivity boss: Workplace system ‘not dysfunctional’

Productivity Commission chairman Peter Harris has struck a conciliatory tone in discussing workplace relations issues at a recent Melbourne lunch.

Harris spoke at a lunch organised by the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia, held at Sofitel on Collins, Melbourne.

He was speaking at a sensitive time for industrial relations issues, with a waterfront dispute between Hutchison Port Holdings and the Maritime Union of Australia capturing widespread media coverage.

In the rail sector, threats of strikes from Melbourne’s rail and tram workers have grabbed headlines, and one of the nation’s biggest operators – Aurizon – has just endured a lengthy bargaining period with its Queensland workforce.

The Productivity Commission recently conducted a review of Australian workplace laws and Harris said although they found evidence of “idiosyncrasy, anachronism and misuse of the system,” but “we find no case… for the abolition of any central element of the system.

He also argued the workplace relations system was “not dysfunctional”.

“That is not to say we would start from here if we were designing a workplace relations system; we would not,” Harris told the gathering, noting that he felt some of the initial public comment might have been indicative of a misreading of the Commission’s research.

He discussed elements of regulation in the system and that although regulation was unpopular, it was necessary.

“We all dislike regulation, but most submissions from most parties called actually for more regulation.

“Flexibility mechanisms allow variation in that regulation either by a statute authorised under the Enterprise Bargaining or individual flexibility agreements or via Commonwealth contracts.”

He talked of the “fundamental basis for regulating” being to address the imbalance between the employer and the employee.

“The reasons for this are not about the character of employers.”

Reasons for the imbalance could be in terms of the high cost of switching jobs for individuals; employers often having better information on investment plans and growth opportunities than employees; or, employers controlling an employee’s future by way of references and legal resources.

There was also the “disproportionate size of the risks” for an employee who “bargained hard” with an employer.

These were the reasons for seeking to address a power imbalance, and “nothing to do with the character of employers”.

“There are contrary times in the economic cycle when circumstances in fact favour employees over employers and the ability for employees to organise as unions can also make a difference.”

Nonetheless, he noted how unionisation has changed over time.

“Unionisation in this country has fallen steeply, particularly in the private sector.

“All of this regulation is actually needed.”

In contrast, deregulation options can have “extreme consequences” for whichever party was not ascendant.

“Thus regulation should be judged for its ability to offset an excess of market power as efficiently as possible – that is the benchmark we used in the report.”

In conducting the review, the Productivity Commission examined some overseas models and alternatives to the current regulated system.

He noted the Commission had considered alternatives to the minimum wage, examining in close details both academic studies and submissions from industry groups.

But the research failed to show any case for significant change.

“The evidence is that studies (and submissions)….could not show that the current minimum wage process had delivered significant negative employment outcomes.

“The results from those analyses were often inconsistent and the breadth of studies was not great in Australia.”

He noted global media coverage regarding the minimum wage, suggesting the differing arguments had converged, with those arguing it caused small negative impacts and those who said it had no negative impact at all.

Substitutes for the minimum wage had considered as the original rationale for it had changed.

“‘Harvester man’, as we decided to call him, has long been overtaken by shifts in participation rates.

“We also know the minimum wage is not well targeted at the least well-off individuals.”

Nonetheless, there was still “no better choice than to improve the current minimum wage process” by ensuring that its growth “does not outstrip growth in median wages and productivity”.

“During downturns, the Fair Work Commission should give greater weight to the risks in unemployment.”

In terms of national employment standards, the Productivity Commission found there were no better alternatives offered around the world.

They also examined long service leave and awards (the latter being unique to Australia).

“We considered the New Zealand model of dissolving awards as they did two decades ago.

“But there appears to be neither support for that from the business community at large, nor is there a case from theory or data to illustrate that transition costs were likely to be outweighed by clear benefits.

“Moreover, awards are not the core of the system as they once were.”

This article originally appeared in Rail Express sister publication, Lloyd’s List Australia. Click here to view the original.

Train strike called off, tram strike still planned

A planned four-hour stop-work for Metro Trains workers this Friday has been postponed, with the Rail Tram & Bus Union expecting an “improved offer” from the employer. Strike action by Yarra Trams staff is still scheduled to take place.

Yarra Trams workers are still set to strike from 10am to 2pm on Friday, August 21. Metro Trains staff were originally set to join them, but RTBU secretary Luba Grigorovitch says ongoing negotiations with Metro Trains have progressed slightly.

“Metro have agreed to withdraw their application at the Fair Work Commission and recommence negotiations from 9am tomorrow (Wednesday, August 19),” Grigorovitch said.

“On this basis the RTBU will postpone all of our planned industrial action.”

The union has cancelled the ‘free travel’ days planned for commuters on Wednesday and Friday. Workers were prepared to leave ticket gates open, and refuse to check tickets.

But all that was cancelled on Tuesday with the update from the union, which is representing Metro Trains and Yarra Trams employees in a pair of concurrent enterprise bargaining agreement processes.

“We have received a commitment that we will be given an improved offer by this Friday 21 August,” Grigorovitch continued. “Mass meetings of the membership will be held next week so we can put the new offer to a vote.”

Grigorovitch said the union continues to act in good faith, and said members would prefer to avoid industrial action if an agreement can be reached.

“However, the level of frustration among our members is at an all-time high,” she said, “and we will take industrial action if Metro doesn’t honour its undertakings.

“We have made it very clear to the government and Metro that even though this is a significant step forward we reserve our right to take protected industrial action if the negotiations break down again.”

Grigorovitch insisted the union was fighting for more than just a good financial offer for its members.

“With Melbourne moving towards a 24-hour transport network it is essential that these negotiations address issues of safety and wellbeing for workers and the travelling public,” she said.

Aurizon coal train. Photo: Aurizon

Aurizon doubles profit despite declining revenue

Major rail operator Aurizon has announced a $604 million net profit after tax, despite a 1% decline in revenues in the 2014/15 financial year.

Aurizon announced $604 million as both its underlying, and its statutory NPAT on Monday, August 17, indicating it was not impaired or assisted by any significant, one-off transactions during the financial period.

The NPAT figure was up 15% on last year’s underlying NPAT figure, and up 139% on last year’s statutory figure.

This was despite a 1% decline in revenue, to $3.78 billion in 2014/15.

Earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) was $970 million, up 14% from last year’s underlying figure, and 109% from last year’s statutory figure.

When all was said and done, the ASX-listed business recorded 28.4 cents in earnings per share in 2014/15. It handed out a final dividend (30% franked) of 13.9 cents per share, up 64% from the dividend handed out at the same time last year.

The impressive increase in earnings despite a slight decrease in revenue helped the company achieve its operating ratio goal of 75%, managing director and chief executive Lance Hockridge said.

“Today Aurizon has reported the achievement of its core financial target, the 75% operating ratio by FY15,” he said on Monday.

“Since IPO [the company was floated on the stock exchange in 2010] we have delivered a strong improvement in our profit margin, on far lower rail volumes and revenue than initially forecast, through a disciplined program of cost reduction and productivity improvements.”

Hockridge said the company has delivered cumulative transformation benefits valued at more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the past two years.

“We’ve hauled 6% more in above rail tonnages with 13% less people and 17% less locomotives, and delivered major growth projects on time and on budget,” he said.

The recent completion of a lengthy set of enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations between Aurizon and several major unions was another positive step going forward, the chief executive explained.

“The catalyst for the next phase of transformation in the Company is new enterprise agreements covering employees in Queensland, which will provide us with productivity enhancements, operational flexibility and cost reductions,” he said.

“After two years of protracted negotiations, we’re pleased to be moving towards modern workplace agreements across our national operations.”

The new agreements should be in place within weeks, following rubber-stamp approval from Fair Work Commission, which is expected soon.

Hockridge said the Queensland-based operator will continue to assess opportunities to diversify and profitably grow the business.

“We understand the current market challenges but likewise we’re committed to a strategy of transformation and long-term growth,” he said.

The company has warned its revenue in the 2015/16 financial year will be impacted by around $200 million due to a number of factors, including a reduction in freight revenues due to smaller government contracts, and sale of CRT Industrial to Qube at the end of last year.

But the company is looking to find more savings through cost reduction in the new financial year.

“We are committed to these challenging financial targets despite the subdued market and tonnage outlook,” Hockridge said.

“Productivity improvements and cost reductions will underpin continuous improvement in our operations and for our customers, and also margin growth for the company.”

Rod Sims, ACCC chairman. Photo: ACCC

Competition boss puts target on unions’ backs

Unions shouldn’t be able to decide who operates in a market with illegal price-fixing tactics, Australian Competition & Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims has said.

The ACCC has stepped-up its focus on industrial relations issues in the wake of a number of alleged breaches of competition laws, and the ongoing Royal Commission inquiry into trade unions, Sims told a Law Council of Australia meeting on Saturday, August 15.

Sims conceded the ACCC may not have paid close enough attention to industrial relations issues in the past, and vowed to step up in that area.

“The role of unions [is not] to regulate markets by fixing prices, deciding who can and can’t operate in a market, or determining how bids for work will be allocated,” he said, “just as it is not any company’s role to do this.”

Exemptions to the Competition and Consumer Act mean the ACCC’s powers are somewhat limited when it comes to industrial relations issues.

The Act doesn’t apply to services of employees performed under a contract of service, and the ACCC does not have jurisdiction to deal with arrangements that relate to employment conditions. The Act also dictates the ACCC can’t rule on enterprise agreements  already approved by the Fair Work Commission.

But Sims is confident the ACCC still has a major role to play to ensure the fairness of the industrial relations landscape.

“The ACCC may currently have more union-related major investigations than ever before,” he said.

“We currently have two further in-depth secondary boycott investigations underway, one at an advanced stage.”

Sims referenced the ACCC alleging 12 cases of breaches of secondary boycott provisions under the Act, relating to the dispute between the CFMEU and Grocon. The union in that case allegedly attempted to induce Boral to stop supplying concrete to Grocon.

The ongoing Royal Commission hearings in Canberra have also led the ACCC to investigate two instances of potential cartel behaviour in the ACT construction sector, he added.

“It is possible that in the past the ACCC has not looked sufficiently into such additional restrictive behaviour that could amount to a contract, agreement or understanding that has the purpose or effect of substantially lessening competition,” Sims conceded, suggesting that may have occurred due to the ACCC believing it was more limited by the exemptions to Competition and Consumer Act than was actually the case.

“The alleged behaviour in Canberra may provide an avenue to do so in the context of investigating the alleged cartel behaviour.

“This type of alleged conduct can disrupt competitive markets, increase costs and impede productivity. In these circumstances we need to ensure that our competition law applies to such restrictive behaviour as it does to every other sector of the economy.”

Sims said the ACCC will make a submission to the Royal Commission “outlining some difficulties with current laws”.

“The secondary boycott provisions are complex and open to differing interpretations,” he argued.

“In addition, the boycott provisions are the only anti-competitive conduct provisions in the CCA which require both a purpose and effect test to be proven, and this sets a high threshold.

“The ACCC is also concerned that there are not appropriate mechanisms which will protect whistle-blowers or other parties who provide information to assist with ACCC investigations,” he added.

Melbourne Tram. Photo:

Melbourne’s train, tram workers set to strike

Staff from Melbourne’s Metro Trains and Yarra Trams network say they will strike for four hours next week, as employers and unions are still millions of dollars apart in employment negotiations.

The Rail Tram & Bus Union (RTBU) is negotiating with Yarra Trams and Metro Trains, over two separate enterprise bargaining agreements.

Unhappy with negotiations and growing impatient, the union last month balloted both sets of employees, who in each case voted to allow the union to use a number of industrial actions.

This week, the union announced it plans to use those powers.

A four hour stop-work on both Yarra Trams and Metro Trains will take place between 10am and 2pm on Friday, August 21, the RTBU announced on Wednesday, August 12.

On top of that, workers will leave gates open, and will refuse to issue infringements or check passengers’ Myki tickets on Wednesday, August 19, and Friday, August 21, effectively making those days ‘free travel days’ for passengers.

The measures are among those granted to the union by the employees’ ballots, which were approved by the Fair Work Commission to take place in July.

“Despite further negotiations with Metro Trains yesterday we are still a long way from securing a new enterprise agreement,” RTBU secretary Luba Grigorovitch.

“Our members are concerned that Metro is trying to strip away hard-won conditions. The RTBU is determined to ensure this doesn’t happen and we will fight to protect and improve the conditions of our members.”

RTBU tram and bus divisional secretary Phil Altieri said negotiations with Yarra Trams weren’t going much better in recent weeks, either.

“Our members at Yarra Trams are frustrated at the lack of progress in securing a new agreement and have been left with no option but to take industrial action,” Altieri explained.

Grigorovitch said stop work meetings would be held during the Friday stoppage, with a midday rally planned for Flinders Street Station.

There is a chance, of course, that the industrial action doesn’t take place. Should negotiations progress or resolve entirely, the union would have reason to cancel the measures.

“Further meetings are scheduled with Yarra Trams and Metro Trains over coming days and we will continue to negotiate in good faith,” Grigorovitch said.

“We would prefer to avoid industrial action if an agreement can be reached before next Friday. If agreement is not reached our members have made it clear they will proceed with industrial action.”

Unfortunately, however, it appears that the union and Yarra Trams – at least – are still financially a long way apart on the deal.

Tram drivers are asking for an 18% pay rise over their next three year enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) – 6% per annum.

Yarra Trams said on Wednesday it has offered the union a 10% increase over three years – roughly 3.3% per annum – but the operator isn’t making any indication it plans to go any higher.

“Yarra Trams remains committed to reaching a fair and balanced agreement and keeping trams moving so that people in the community can continue their lives as normal,” the company said. “We don’t believe industrial action is necessary.

“Our offer of 10 per cent remains on the table and we are making progress towards reaching an agreement.”

Altieri was forced to defend the 18% pay increase demand on 3AW radio in July, saying he thought a 6% per annum pay rise was reasonable.

“The thing that’s got under the skin of [tram drivers] is that we know that Yarra Trams has substantially increased revenue over the last year … all the while, our members are getting their current terms and conditions,” Altieri said.

“Yarra Trams … say ‘You can get more, but what are you going to give up to get more?’ So they want us to compromise our terms and conditions in order to get half a decent wage increase.”

Show host Nick McCallum suggested the pay rise was so high as to hold the union up to ridicule, but Altieri disagreed.

“No, not really, I don’t think [6% per annum is too high],” he answered.

“Yarra Trams have increased their revenue … on the back of our members’ hard work. The reason they’re making more money is because our members are being more productive. Fare evasion is at its lowest level ever … that makes a big impression on their bottom line, and they don’t want to recognise the workers.”

“But is six percent realistic?” McCallum asked.

“I think it is,” Altieri answered. “When you consider what the company is making, it’s reasonable.”

Aurizon, Lance Hockridge - Photo Aurizon

Aurizon boosts super for primary caregivers

Rail operator Aurizon says it’s helping tackle the superannuation gap caused by unpaid parental leave, with a new ‘Super Booster’ initiative.

In addition to the 14 weeks of paid parental leave which incorporates superannuation contributions, Aurizon will pay superannuation for up to 14 further weeks of unpaid leave, under the scheme, for primary caregivers – both male and female.

Aurizon boss Lance Hockridge says the operator is one of few businesses offering such a benefit.

“Research shows the primary caregiver of children can have lost almost half of their superannuation at retirement largely due to the unpaid breaks from work when having a family,” Hockridge said.

“We are extremely proud to be one of the few companies in Australia offering this benefit over and above legislative requirements. We are pleased to help ease the superannuation burden faced by our primary caregivers.”

The ‘Super Booster’ scheme is one of Aurizon’s diversity initiatives, part of its push to support gender equality across its workforce, the company says.

Aurizon has won five awards over the past year for its diversity focus.

It’s taken home awards from Engineers Australia, the Australasian Railway Association, the Hunter Diversity Awards, and two from the Australian Human Resources Institute.