The New South Wales government has lost its legal bid to suspend future industrial action by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) after a week of major disruptions across the network.
Since June 9, union members have engaged in a range of disruptive practices, including refusing to staff trains that were manufactured overseas, banning the cleaning of hazardous waste, and reducing the maximum speed of trains with “go slow” periods.
On Monday the NSW government applied to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to halt any further action by the unions, arguing it had led to losses in excess of $100 million and was doing significant economic damage.
FWC deputy president Bryce Cross said the RTBU, consistent with its stated focus on safety as its highest priority, took steps, independent from any urging by the applicants “to ameliorate possible risks arising from their notified protected action. Those actions were substantial steps to addressing any perceived risks”.
“I find that no part of the protected action of the unions has threatened, is threatening, or would threaten to endanger the life, the personal safety or health, or the welfare, of the population … or cause significant damage to the Australian economy,” he said.
He found that much of the evidence provided by the NSW government about economic impacts was based on “inexplicable assumptions” and generalised predictions that were impossible to rely on.
RTBU NSW Secretary, Alex Claassens, said that while the ruling is a positive for rail workers who “have done everything by the book”, the victory means little unless it finally forces the NSW Government to act.
“We’ve won in the Commission, but we still don’t have a commitment from the NSW Government that it will make the safety changes required to the New Intercity Fleet, and confirmation that any changes made won’t come at the expense of workers’ take-home pay and conditions,” he said.
He said that while the Fair Work Commission ruled the unions can continue their protected industrial action, there is no action currently planned.
“This has been a remarkable waste of taxpayer dollars. The NSW Government ran, and lost, a case aimed at stopping protected industrial action that doesn’t even currently exist,” he said.
“The people disrupting commuter services are the government officials themselves. They stopped the entire network in February and they’ve been caught out deliberately withholding services again this past week, all to make an ideological political point.”
Claassens said the unions are seeking a return to proper negotiations as soon as possible.
“We need to sit down at the table and get a resolution that delivers safe trains and fair wages and conditions. It’s as simple as that,” he said.