Melbourne could be headed for public transport chaos as tram drivers joined train drivers on Friday last week, lodging a bit at the Fair Work Commission to ballot its members over potential strike action.
An EBA covering tram and train drivers in Melbourne expired on June 30, but will remain in place while employers Melbourne Metro and Yarra Trams negotiate with the Rail Tram and Bus Union, which represents many of its workers.
Unhappy with negotiations and growing impatient, the union went to the Fair Work Commission to request a ballot of train drivers, seeking permission to conduct a number of industrial actions, including station skipping, giving passengers free travel, and work stoppages.
The trains ballot was approved by the Fair Work Commission on Thursday, July 9, and the relevant members will be polled over the next fortnight.
Tram drivers could also soon be polled, with the union reportedly logging another ballot request for industrial action in its dispute with Yarra Trams late last week.
The RTBU reportedly wants permission from its tram driving members, to stage bans on infringement and on-the-stop penalties, bans on announcements and bans on overtime, as well as work stoppages and other measures.
Interviewed on 3AW Drive on Friday afternoon, RTBU Victoria’s bus and trams secretary Phil Altieri said the employer and the union are far from coming to a deal.
“We’ve been negotiating for a number of months now with very little progress [and] very little agreement,” Altieri told the program.
Yarra Trams are refusing to take important matters on board, he claimed.
“On top of that, the wage offer they’ve put to workers is insulting, if nothing else … We’re miles apart.”
Altieri confirmed the union is asking Yarra Trams for an 18% pay rise over the next 3 years, in stages of 6% per annum. When host Nick McCallum questioned the demand – stating it was more than twice inflation – the union official said: “It’s a bargain, and we’re in-good-faith bargaining”.
“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.”
Yarra Trams has reportedly offered workers a base increase of 1.33% per annum, but will increase that if certain conditions and productivity gains are met.
“Yarra Trams is positioned with the 1.33% wage offer, [then] they say ‘You can get more, but what are you going to give up to get more?’,” Altieri argued. “So they want us to compromise our terms and conditions in order to get half a decent wage increase.”
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],” the union boss 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.”