STRIKE RULED OUT: Sydney's train drivers were just legally ordered back to work

Greg Wood/ AFP/ GettyImages

Sydney train drivers have been told to get back to work, do overtime, and call off Monday’s 24-hour strike in a comprehensive legal victory for the NSW government.

After launching legal action in the Fair Work Commission against the strike and overtime bans yesterday FWC deputy president Jonathan Hamberger concluded this afternoon that the industrial action “threatens to endanger the welfare” of train commuters and could significantly damage the city’s economy.

The government argued for the union action to be suspended using a clause in the Fair Work Act, s.424, that says industrial action must be suspended or terminated if it endangers the life, safety, health or welfare of any or all of the population or could “cause significant damage to the Australian economy”.

While Hamberger agreed that the union’s actions “constitute protected industrial action for a proposed enterprise agreement” and thus legal, he was required under the Fair Work Act “to make an order suspending or terminating the protected industrial action” under s.242.

His ruling reads, in part:

I am satisfied, based on the evidence, that this industrial action taken together – or indeed separately – threatens to endanger the welfare of a part of the population – including the large number of people in Sydney and surrounding areas who rely on the services provided by Sydney Trains and NSW Trains to get to work, attend school or otherwise go about their business, as well as all those who will suffer from the increased congestion on the roads that would be an inevitable consequence of the industrial action.

NSW Treasury estimates put the damage to the state’s economy from Monday’s strike at up to $90 million.

Hamberger has given rail staff until 6pm today to start working overtime again and blocked further bans, as well as any more strike attempts, until at least March 8.

But the Saturday timetable will remain in place during this evening’s commute according to Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins.

Collins plans to ask the union to waive the usual 48 hours notice required to for staff to work additional hours outside their roster in the hope that more trains will join the network tonight. Up to 1300 services were cancelled today as the overtime ban came into effect.

Commuters are still advised to avoid travelling at peak times this evening.

National unions boss Sally McManus was not impressed with today’s decision.

Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) boss Alex Claassens said he would abide by the umpire’s decision.

“My members will be disappointed,” he said.

Hamberger has given the RTBU and Sydney Trains six weeks to hammer out a deal following six months of negotiations on a new enterprise agreement.

On Tuesday following last-minute negotiations between NSW transport minister Andrew Constance and the RTBU, a revised offer of a 2.75% annual increase over three years was put on the table. It also includes a one-off $1000 payment and other perks. The union put the offer to members via text message overnight but when less than 6% of its 6000-plus members responded on Wednesday, concluded that the 94% who did not reply were in favour of Monday’s strike going ahead.

Claassens called the latest offer “nowhere good enough”. He will continue negotiations with Sydney Trains tonight.

Today’s ruling by the FWC means that the union will have to consult with its members face-to-face in order to determine whether they will accept any offer.

READ MORE: A Sydney train driver has revealed the key economic problem facing the state’s rail system

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