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.”

ATSB fallen containers story location. Graphic: Google

ATSB to probe dislodged containers

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating how a pair of shipping containers apparently fell off a freight train between Wangaratta and Springhurst, in Victoria.

It’s believed that on the night of Friday, July 24, a pair of shipping containers fell off train 6MC2, travelling from Melbourne to Ettamogah, NSW.

The issue was not discovered until around 4.30am the following day, July 25, when the driver of train 3PW4 reported a shipping container laying next to, but clear of the east track between Wangaratta and Springhurst.

Upon the driver’s warning, the ARTC warned the following train – an XPT passenger service travelling from Sydney to Melbourne – to proceed with caution.

At around 4.47am the driver of the passenger train confirmed the details and location of the container with the ARTC network control centre at Junee.

The ARTC arranged to have the track inspected, and the inspector arrived on site and discovered a second shipping container near the track.

Both containers were clear of the track and normal train running resumed, and the ARTC established the containers had fallen from train 6MC2 the previous night.

The ATSB has initiated an investigation into the incident, which it is classing as a ‘loading irregularity’ issue. There were no injuries reported, but minor damage was reported to the train/cargo.

The investigation is ongoing, with completion expected for March 2016.

Handcuffs, arrest. Photo: Shutterstock

Another blitz shows public transport still a hotbed for crime

NSW Police have returned en masse to the public transport system, and have again issued hundreds of infringements in just four-and-a-half hours’ work.

Officers from the Police Transport Command (PTC) and Sydney Trains were deployed to transport hubs as part of an operation to combat fare-evasion and improve community safety on public transport on Thursday, August 20.

Thursday’s operation was conducted between 10am to 2.30pm, with 125 NSW Police Officers and 67 Sydney Trains Transport Officers deployed at train stations across Sydney.

In total 209 trains, 164 train stations, and 26 buses were patrolled.

Police Transport Officers issued 292 infringement notices, and Sydney Trains Officers issued 228 infringements, for a range of transport offences.

87 people were moved on for anti-social behaviour.

Two people were arrested and charged.

About 12.50pm, a 24-year-old man was arrested at Dulwich Hill Station. He was allegedly found to be in possession of a cheque book and identification that did not belong to him and charged with goods in custody, police said.

About 2pm, a 24-year-old woman was arrested at Campbelltown Station. She was found to be in possession of drugs believed to be cannabis and prescription medication. She was charged with possess prohibited drug (x2).

The crack-down was part of Operation Avoidance, a high-visibility operation targeting fare evasion and anti-social behaviour.

In June, another four-hour Operation Avoidance crackdown resulted in the arrest of 11 people, who were charged with 14 alleged offences, including drug supply and possession, and possessing weapons. The June activity resulted in a total of 414 rail infringement notices.

Queensland Rail passenger train - photo QLD Matt

Queensland assembles 8-expert panel to review transport fares

The Palaszczuk Government has appointed a taskforce of eight public transport experts to conduct a comprehensive review of TransLink’s fare structure in South East Queensland.

Queensland deputy premier and transport minister Jackie Trad said the move delivers on the Labor Party’s commitment to review the public transport fare system to improve affordability and boost patronage.

“The Fare Review will form the basis of a new fare strategy in South East Queensland to increase the rate of public transport patronage while also ensuring a sustainable fare revenue stream to allow the network to grow,” Trad said.

The transport minister says public transport patronage in South East Queensland declined by two-million trips under the former LNP Government.

“The Palaszczuk Government is committed to restoring confidence in our public transport system and encouraging more people to choose to travel by bus, rail, ferry or light rail to get to their destination.

“We recognise that affordability is perceived to be a barrier to growing patronage on the public transport network, and the Fare Review will work to address this ongoing challenge to create a fairer system.”

Members of the fare review taskforce are as follows:

Neil Cagney, managing director, MRCagney (Chair)

Cagney has more than 40 years’ experience in transport management and engineering expertise. He leads transport consultancy MRCagney and has been the head of Brisbane Transport.

Neil Scales, director-general, Department of Transport and Main Roads

Scales has almost 43 years’ transport experience. Prior to joining the Queensland public service, he led the transport authority for Merseyside in the north of England. He has received an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to public transport.

Trent Zimmerman, deputy chief executive, Tourism and Transport Forum

Zimmerman has 20 years’ experience in local, state and federal government. He is deputy CEO of TTF and has led much of TTF’s transport policy development, the peak industry group for Australian tourism, transport and aviation sectors.

Mark Tucker-Evans, chief executive, COTA Queensland

Tucker-Evans has held CEO roles with research, media, industry and professional associations in New South Wales and Queensland. He represents COTA Queensland on a number of roundtables and forums in the State. COTA Australia is a national organisation representing the rights, needs and interests of older Australians.

Jarrett Walker, consultant, Jarrett Walker and Associates

Walker is an international consultant in public transit network design and policy, based in Portland, Oregon. He has 20 years’ experience working with government on major planning projects in cities and towns across North America, Australia, and New Zealand. He is the author of Human Transit: How clearer thinking about public transit can enrich our communities and our lives.

Dr Matthew Burke, associate professor, Griffith University

Burke is deputy director and an Australian Research Council future fellow at Griffith University’s Urban Research Program. He coordinates most of Griffith’s transport research and currently leads large research grants exploring light rail, transport and land use relationships, and the funding and financing of urban transport. He has previous experience as a transport planner at Commonwealth and state government level.

Robert Dow, administrator, Rail Back on Track

Dow is the Spokesman and Administrator for Rail Back on Track, an organisation who provides a forum to promote and lobby Australian Governments to use railway transportation and public and active transport for the benefit of all Australians.

Sharon Boyce, chair, Queensland Disability Advisory Council, and regional chair, South West Regional Disability Advisory Council

Boyce runs an experiential educational consultancy practice ‘Discovering Disability & Diversity’ and won the Australian Human Rights Award for Individuals 2008 for this initiative. She is a professional member on a number of boards and councils in Queensland.

Minister Trad said the eight representatives on the taskforce included industry-leading public transport experts and representatives from key local user groups.

“The members of the taskforce who will lead the review of fares in South East Queensland bring a wealth of global and local transport knowledge and experience to the table,” Trad said.

“Members of the taskforce are eminently qualified to drive the review and come from varied backgrounds in public transport management and research, ticketing systems, tourism, and advocacy group representation, with many experienced in leading global transport organisations working across public and private sectors.

“Key local advocacy and user groups are also represented on the taskforce, to ensure it is equipped with a solid understanding of our local context and needs of transport users in South East Queensland, including seniors and those living with disabilities.”

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.

Broadmeadow station. Photo: Creative Commons / Athol Mullen

Broadmeadow to get access upgrade

A tender for the major upgrade of Broadmeadow railway station has been released by NSW parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald.

MacDonald released the tender last week, as part of the NSW Government’s Transport Access Program, an initiative to deliver modern, safe and accessible transport infrastructure.

The upgrade will include the installation of three new lifts, upgraded security features such as lighting and CCTV, canopies and improved signage to make life easier for customers, MacDonald said.

“This project will ensure all customers, particularly the elderly, those with disability and parents with prams will be able to access the platforms safely through improved lift access, meaning easier travel for everyone.

“Many people use Broadmeadow Station each day. There are the regular commuters who travel to and from work and school and others who are connecting to regional train services.”

“We also have the thousands of footy supporters who use the station on match days as well as event goers who are heading to the Newcastle Entertainment Centre.

“Today’s news shows that we are wasting no time in delivering this much needed upgrade for customers.”

The community will get a chance to have their say on the project when the review of environmental factors goes on public display later this year.

The award of the design and construction contract is expected later this year, with work kicking off in 2016.

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.

Sydney light rail. Artist's impression: Transport for NSW

Media hammering light rail is short-term view of long-term benefit

COMMENT: When I was in high school, my parents renovated the family home, and I had to move into a smaller room for six months. Outrageous, I know.

I sulked about it and dragged my feet, no doubt causing unnecessary frustration and stress for my parents along the way.

I acted that way because I lacked foresight; I was unable to recognise my short-term inconvenience would have a long-term payoff.

The installation of a light rail line is a long-term, transformational project.

Light rail is not always going to be the best option, of course. Discussion over the long-term value of any major project – both within the industry, and in mass media – should always be encouraged.

But media whining over short-term, necessary disruptions as part of a major project is just a waste of time. Worse, it will more than likely result in a waste of public money.

The NSW government has decided that a light rail line is the right choice for the Sydney CBD. So it’s moving forward with pre-construction works already underway, and a hefty construction schedule slated for the next 24 months.

As part of the plan, the state government has launched the Tomorrow’s Sydney campaign.

The gist of the campaign is to let Sydneysiders know there will be significant disruptions over the next few years, in and around the Sydney CBD. This is a fact that neither the campaign, nor the ministers involved, have shied away from.

“Building a light rail [line] will not be easy and sacrifices are needed,” transport minister Andrew Constance said in July. “There will be disruption,” he said, “but the change will eventually be for the better when light rail is in action.”

Despite this, articles on light rail in Sydney’s media have focused almost exclusively on dramatising every imaginable aspect of the works. Stories have focused on moving cycleways, narrowing footpaths, changing bus schemes, growing traffic jams, interference with retail; the list goes on.

Stories about the benefits of the finished product, however, have been few and far between.

In its latest heinous act, the state government announced on August 13 it was moving some of the George Street works forward, so they would not impact retail businesses as heavily during the Christmas shopping period.

This is how the Daily Telegraph chose to break that news in its August 14 edition:


Daily Telegraph, August 14, 2015.
Daily Telegraph, August 14, 2015.


Elsewhere, opposition transport spokesperson Ryan Park asked the ABC why the government has made this change now, considering “Christmas occurs on the same day each and every year”. A good point, you have to admit.

But Park also used the opportunity to stress the impact of temporary disruptions. “In eight weeks’ time, this city will grind to a halt,” he was quoted. “George Street will essentially be shut down.”

Sydney’s busiest retail street will be ‘shut down’? No.

Shops will remain open, and foot traffic will remain. To say the street will ‘grind to a halt’ seems a bit dramatic.

So far, the government has spent $6 million on Tomorrow’s Sydney, a change management campaign, worth spending money on.

But $6 million of public funding is already a big number to put in headlines. And Constance says he’s prepared to keep spending money on Tomorrow’s Sydney until the campaign is successful.

I’m sure the media would not hesitate to lampoon the government if that spending was to increase. But perhaps if people asked why more money was needed to win the public over, they may find the media itself is the primary culprit stalling change.

Relax, everyone. The government is renovating your already world-class city. There’s no point sulking over it.

Wooden railway sleepers. Photo: Creative Commons / LooiNL

Andrews backs Murray Basin project

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has called for the Federal Government to support the Murray Basin Rail Project, after the state government announced it would put $220 million towards it on Monday.

The project, worth $416 million in total, will standardise and upgrade the entire Murray Basin rail network.

Lines from Geelong to Mildura, Manangatang, Sea Lake and Murrayville will be upgraded and standardised, and the standard-gauge connection between Maryborough and Ararat will be re-opened.

Andrews, joined by public transport minister Jacinta Allan and agriculture minister Jaala Pulford, said the project would enhance connections to the Port of Melbourne, and would fix missing links in Victoria’s freight network.

Axle loading on Murray Basin freight lines will be increased to 21 tonnes, allowing larger trains to carry more product with each trip. More freight on rail, Andrews argued, meant 20,000 truck trips off the roads each year, and a more competitive export industry in Victoria.

“The Andrews Labor Government is committed to the full Murray Basin Rail Project, which will boost the safety, capacity and reliability of freight services and better connect primary producers to the state’s major ports,” the premier said.

“This is good for farmers, their families and our economy, and we’re calling on the Abbott Government to step up and contribute to this critical project.”

“Standardising the Murray Basin rail network, and increasing the loads it can carry, will allow primary producers to get more produce to port, more efficiently – boosting jobs and the regional economy,” public transport minister Jacinta Allan added.

Victoria has allocated up to $220 million from its 2015/16 Budget for the project. $5 million of that was fast-tracked in February to get work started on critical maintenance and safety works.

Andrews has written to deputy prime minister Warren Truss asking for Commonwealth funding. The business case, also released on Monday, was been sent to Infrastructure Australia for assessment.

On the current timetable, major works are expected to commence in the second half of 2016. 270 jobs will be created during construction, Andrews said.

“Food and fibre are the future of our economy. By supporting our farmers to get their goods to market faster, we’re boosting exports and making sure we stay ahead of the game,” minister for agriculture Jaala Pulford concluded.

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.