Oh the places you won’t go with Metro

Luba Grigorovitch 
Branch Secretary

None of us should really be surprised by Melbourne’s current rail crisis.

After all, Dr Seuss warned us all that this day would come – the day when everyone is just waiting:

“Waiting for the train to go, or a bus to come or a plane to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a yes or no, or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.”

There are upsides, of course, to be being stranded on a rail platform.

You can catch up with friends on social media, sharpen up your crossword skills, or read the Herald Sun from cover to cover.

But the problem is that most of us really can’t afford to be stranded by a failing public transport system day after day.

The regular delays not only affect us personally, but they are costing the Victorian economy millions of dollars.

The Rail, Tram & Bus Union (RTBU) has been doing its best to hold Metro to account, and to pressure the company into lifting its performance.

We have exposed systemic failures in the way track maintenance has been managed, and a culture of putting profits above service.

The company, however, continues to make the same mistakes.

While investigations are still underway into the cause of the problems, the Metrol meltdown which paralysed the entire network on Thursday 13 July exposed the fact that our train control system does not have an adequate Plan B when things go wrong.

Metro’s $80 million Disaster Recovery Centre was unable to be activated.  What’s more – it was unstaffed, and workers from the main site in the CBD had to somehow travel from one side of the city just to get in the door.

Meanwhile, questions also remain over the cause of derailment on the Lilydale line, just days later, which again saw services cancelled and commuters stranded.

It was not supposed to be this way.

When Jeff Kennett privatised Victoria’s rail and tram operations he promised more services and better performance at a much lower cost to the taxpayer.

We would turf out the crusty old Victorians who had been running the system for decades, and replace it with companies from overseas – who would bring all their wonderful overseas expertise and cleverness with them.

The new operators would turn the old system into something shiny and new using their special powers of private sector magic.

Oh the places we would go!

Sadly for Victorians, it hasn’t turned out that way.

The only thing that Metro has proven to be good at it is cutting corners, with chronic understaffing right across the network…

When it comes to under-investing in track maintenance, skipping stations, an failing to recruit, train and deploy adequate numbers of qualified staff to meet basic operational needs – Metro is indeed world-class!

So while Metro is sending fat profits back to its overseas shareholders, commuters are wondering when things are actually going to improve.

Perhaps its time that we, as a State, moved beyond our cultural cringe, and gave ourselves some credit.

Despite what people in Spring Street may think, Victorians are not stupid.  We have some extremely talented and highly-qualified people right here in Victoria who are eminently capable of running our local train and tram services.

The RTBU has been running a campaign to return our train and tram operations into public hands.

We believe this is the best way to ensure that Victorians get value-for-money from their investment in public transport.

Most importantly, returning these operations back to the people means that control of important decisions is taken out of the hands of foreign companies.

But it’s not just unions who are calling for a rethink of privatisation.

Last year the head of the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission Rod Sims, admitted that the privatisation of public assets was not delivering the promised benefits for the people of Australia.

Other countries are also finding that the shine is wearing off the privatisation agenda.

A recent Parliamentary Report in the United Kingdom found that rail privatisation had failed to deliver on the key benefits that were initially envisaged.

It’s little wonder that sections of the UK rail network that were handed over to the private sector in the 1990s are now coming back into the public sector.

In fact, last year Transport for London brought a maintenance contract for works on three Tube lines back in-house.

It was estimated that re-nationalising maintenance operations on the Tube would save around $131 million in private sector management fees over the next decade.

I’m sure that putting Victoria’s train and trams back in public hands seems like climbing a mountain to many of our politicians.

But they shouldn’t be so timid.  Victorians more than ever, need their leaders to stand up and show some courage.

As Dr Seuss said “today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!”

luba-op-ed

ARTC ACTION HEATS UP – ARTC NOTIFIED OF IMMINENT STOPPAGES

artc-ararat-v3Bryan Evans
Organiser

After two years of ARTC not budging on EA negotiations, members voted 100% in favour of taking Industrial Action against the company. RTBU and ETU members have now implemented work bans that see members refuse overtime, callouts, working in the rain, or living away from home and ARTC still refuse to move on their insulting claims. They still hold onto their dreams of an agreement which offers wage increases less then CPI (effectively a wage cut) and sells out bonus days. They insist they are being instructed by the Liberals that they must adhere to the Federal Government’s  “Workplace bargaining Policy” of limiting increases to 2% per year, yet the Federal Government themselves are relying on wage growth of 3.75 % to get the budget back to surplus by 2021.

ARTC are still demanding that members accept a disgraceful Q&A style of agreement, which articulates every clause as a question, completely undermining clauses that have been developed over the last 50 years, leaving every term open to interpretation.

The RTBU have now responded by ramping up action and notifying of stoppages over the next fortnight and news just in is that NSW RTBU members have just voted down a similar agreement and are quickly running out of patience.

The one thing that ARTC is quick to forget is that these conditions were fought for and won by our members and WILL NOT BE LOST BY OUR MEMBERS. We were here before this new breed of ARTC management arrived, and we will be here when they are long gone.

All RTBU members across the state are called on to support ARTC members in this dispute.

ANTI-PRIVATISATION FORUM: RECORD THE PAST, PAVE THE FUTURE

Luba Grigorovitch
Branch Secretary

As November rolls around, the clock is ticking for the state government. With the contracts for metropolitan trams and trains to expire on Nov 30, the government must be prepared to shake up arrangements for how the system is run, how information is shared, and how accountability can be ensured.

Continuing to build the case for systematic overhaul that prioritises the public interest, the RTBU worked to facilitate a forum of different individuals, interest groups, experts and public transport workers, RTBU delegates and retired members to build an account of public transport that reflects on 20 years of privatisation.

Held across the afternoon of Saturday 3 June forum attendees discussed many issues in public transport – from governance to maintenance and service delivery, the main topics covered focused on three main topics:

–    The perils and pitfalls of privatisation

–    The system under public administration

–    A new path forward

One of the first topics covered was the critical question of understanding why public transport was privatised in the first place. Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming number of attendees acknowledged governance issues, performance and funding issues as being central to pushing the system into private hands. Many who worked closely with the system through the years leading up to privatisation perceived a deliberate degradation of the system in preparation for privatisation.

What became evident was that while privatisation was Kennett’s response to a poorly governed public monopoly, he did little to address the underlying governance issues and just produced a poorly governed private monopoly. To this day, Victorians – transport workers, taxpayers and commuters alike – have been robbed of the transparency, consultation and oversight necessary for effective, well resourced public transport that is operated in the primary interest of the Victorian public.

Comparing the system under privatisation against public ownership several notable differences arose. Training, career progression and organisational structure were identified as major differences:

– Attendees reflected on how Victorian Railways was once a large trainer of highly skilled apprentices for the wider Victorian economy. As public responsibility has been eroded the scope of service and value provided by the operator has diminished to boost profitability.

– The railways used to operate as a more integrated system where freight, regional and metropolitan services would support each other and provide economies of scale. Where losses may have been made on passenger services, larger profits are found in the movement of freight, for example.

– Career progression was once closer tied to experience and years of service. This system ensured experienced and committed railway employees, naturally most qualified for supervisory or managerial roles, could further contribute their acquired skills and knowledge to improving operations. Under privatisation more and more managers have been hired with little or no railway experience which has contributed to a reduced level of industry and network specific skills in the workforce and reductions in worker morale.

Reflecting on the changes that have occurred and what may constitute public interest, attendees discussed a path forward. The main feature was to continue work in building the campaign community and building stronger links with other community groups that share common interests. Broadly acknowledged by the crowd was the scale of the campaign, the political resistance and the overarching control and power the current operators have over network information and influence within the government and its respective agencies.

No doubt there may be a long road to public justice but importantly the public discussion is underway as we continue to build on community campaign capacity. If you would like to know more about the forum or get more involved in the discussion call or text the RTBU Industrial, Campaigns and Research Officer Amedeo on 0488 305 088.

ACTING IN HIGHER AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR MEMBERS  

Darren Galea
Organiser

It has come to our attention that a number of members have been paid incorrectly. When acting in higher duties throughout the year, many were not being paid the correct rate for when they took their annual leave and were not being paid at the higher rate when taking public holiday credits which were accrued while acting in higher.

It was recently discovered in a working group at Metro that in excess of fifty members were not paid correctly for acting in higher. With the hard work and assistance of our Delegate and members, we were able to rectify the problem and ensure the members were paid their correct entitlement.

The Metro Trains Melbourne Rail Operations Enterprise Agreement 2015 – 2019 provides for Acting in Higher at clause 3.12. In regards to payment, the clause provides that not only must you be paid for acting in higher for the work you do, but that you must also be paid a portion of your Annual Leave at the higher rate if you qualify for it under clause 3.12.6. Further to this, if you accrue Public Holiday Credits when you work on a Public Holiday and take pay at the rate of time and a half, when you take the PH Credit when you return to your usual role, it should be paid at the higher rate at which you accrued it.

This is a great win for our members, and it shows that when we work together we are stronger.