A 24-hour strike by Sydney train drivers will go ahead on Monday and rail commuters can expect delays from tomorrow, January 25, with the schedule switching to weekend timetable as overtime bans go ahead as part of an increasingly bitter dispute between the NSW government and transport union over pay negotiations.
While a last-minute deal over pay and conditions was brokered on Tuesday between the government and Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), a tiny minority – less than 6% of the union’s 6000-plus members — responded to a text message poll saying they were willing to end the overtime ban and Monday’s strike, with the union counting those who did not reply as backing the industrial action.
Union boss Alex Claassens called the offer of a 2.75% annual pay rise over three years “nowhere good enough”.
The deal, which also includes a one-off $1000 payment and free Opal card travel on future private buses and metro trains exceeds the government’s current annual wages cap of 2.5%, and effectively offers rail workers a 3.45% annual pay rise.
Claassens conceded that the union’s SMS poll was “not perfect”, but the best that could be done at short notice, although there are reports that some members complained they did not receive the text message.
Sydney Trains is trying to have the strike blocked by the Fair Work Commission, having launched pre-emptive legal action before the vote result was announced. The hearing was underway this afternoon.
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance called for the union to suspend Monday’s strike and consult fully with its members, saying today’s poll was “illegitimate”.
“It’s not a legitimate poll,” he said.
“That’s why it’s vital that people are consulted in the depots, in the tea rooms, in the town halls around the state – those 9,500 hard-working employees – about what this package means for them. And that’s why it’s vital to suspend the strike action, allow that consultation to happen and then make a decision there want to do as a union,” he said.
Constance said 1.3 million commuters reliant on the rail system will be affected from tomorrow. He said he will continue to negotiate with the union tonight and tomorrow.
He said he was “perplexed” about what the union wanted saying he thought they’d struck “a good deal” with the union yesterday.
The Minister said seven unions were involved in the pay deal and it was “a disappointment” that it was not being honoured.
He said commuters should avoid travelling during peak periods.
The Saturday timetable will operate on Thursday as the overtime bans begin.