Transportation Planning Casebook/Sydney Trains Labour Relations

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Summary[edit | edit source]

Sydney Trains network operate rail services across the Sydney metropolitan area bounded by Berowra, Bondi Junction, Waterfall, Macarthur and Leppington, Emu Plains and Richmond [1]. There are 9 railway lines from T1 to T9 and 5 intercity lines that allow passengers from outlying cities to travel into Sydney [2]. On 18th of February, the NSW Government attempted to cease the Sydney Trains workers right to take industrial action in Fair Work Commission [3]. The workers from Sydney Trains proceeded industrial action and the argument between the workers from the Sydney Trains and NSW Government continued for more than 12 months [4]. This incident brough Sydney trains network to experience major disruption. On Monday 21st of February, when the labour strike between the employees of Sydney Trains and NSW Government increased, the NSW Government closed down the train networks and locked out the workers of Sydney Trains, stopping them from working on their tasks. It brought chaos to public transport affecting a large number of passengers. A day after, the train network re-opened. The Rail, Tram, and Bus Union (RTBU) began continuous industrial action in June, with delays and cancellations of train services. The industrial actions ended with an agreement between the union and the NSW Government on pay and conditions on 30th of January 2023 [4].

Causes of Industrial Action[edit | edit source]

The Unions took industrial action to prevent privatisation of public transports. The NSW Government planned to privatise their state transit authority and NSW bus operations [5]. A common claim of privatisation of public transport is providing higher performance and reliable transport services compared to state owned transit operations. However, privatisation of transport brought worse outcomes in the past such as, low performance and services, and higher travelling costs[5].

Another reason for the industrial action is to provide safer workplace addressing critical safety issues of the new fleet of intercity trains [6]. The train drivers and guards reported three critical safety issues, which are:

  • An automatic locking system of guard doors on both depature and arrival from the station, inducing difficulties to the train guards from helping passengers who require assist.
  • The CCTV cameras attached on the side of the new trains recording the station have a blind spot below 1.1 metres. This is a very critical problem to the safety and wellbeing of childern, prams, and guide dogs on the station.
  • The CCTV camera screens in train driver's compartment partially block the driver's sight during the train operation.

Lastly, the inflation continued to increase as the supply chain was interrupted during the Covid pandemic and lockdown, and Sydney Trains workers demaned pay rise to keep up with the cost of living [7].

Annotated List of Actors[edit | edit source]

Sydney Trains[edit | edit source]

Sydney Trains is the main intercity and suburban railway operator in New South Wales. It is responsible for providing a wide range of train services covering the entire Sydney metropolitan area. In this case, Sydney Railway is the subject of negotiations with the union regarding employee wages and working conditions.

Trade Unions (Australian Railways, Transport, and Utilities Union)[edit | edit source]

In this case, the trade union represents employees of Sydney Railways, striving for better wages and working conditions. Trade unions play an important role in negotiations with Sydney Trains, organizing strikes and protests to put pressure on Sydney Trains. Union members seek solutions through these actions, including increasing wages, improving employee work environments, reducing fatigue driving risks, and improving the quality and safety of train services [8].

NSW Government[edit | edit source]

The New South Wales government is responsible for regulating and managing Sydney trains. In this case, the state government played a mediating role in the escalation of labour disputes, helping both parties reach an agreement and restore normal operations. Damien Tudehope, the Minister of Labor of New South Wales, hopes that the federal government will intervene in resolving long-standing disputes with the Railway, Tram, and Bus Union (RTBU). He requested Federal Secretary Tony Burke to use his power to deprive RTBU of the right to take protected industrial action [9].

Sydney Train Employees[edit | edit source]

This includes drivers, maintenance personnel, ticket sellers, and other types of staff. They are participants in industrial actions and organizers of strikes and protests. The employee's demands for wages and working conditions in this case are key factors leading to labour disputes.

Passengers[edit | edit source]

Users of Sydney trains, including commuters, students, tourists, etc. In this case, passengers were affected by train service interruptions and became indirect stakeholders. Their needs and expectations have an impact on the decisions of Sydney Trains and the government in resolving labor disputes. Although the actions of the railway, bus, and tram unions are not strictly 'strikes', they have had a significant impact on the daily lives of Sydney citizens [10].

Australian Federal Government[edit | edit source]

The Australian federal government is expected to help state governments address this challenge, but its role in this industrial action may be limited as the Sydney train system is mainly managed by the New South Wales government. Tony Burke, the Federal Minister of Employment and Labour Relations of Australia accused the New South Wales coalition government of being either naive or intentionally misleading. He believed that the state government should rely on the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to resolve disputes, rather than seeking intervention from him. Burke stated that the state government should use its power to present arguments to the committee or better resolve disputes, rather than requiring it to intervene with unprecedented power.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Time Event(s)
February 18, 2022 The NSW Government attempted to terminate the RTBUs right to take industrial action in the Fair Work Commission. But they were unsuccessful [11].
February 21, 2022 As the labour strike between the state government and rail workers increased. The government turn away their own workers. The Sydney train union begins industrial action. Thousands of commuters will be affected [12].
February 22, 2022 The rail network re-opened, despite no changes to the protected industrial action that allegedly caused it to shut down the day prior [11].
March 25, 2022 The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) has warned the government that it will strike every Friday until June unless it offers free travel for commuters as an apology for the 24-hour work stoppage in February. Massive disruptions to Sydney's train network were averted after the NSW government and rail unions reached an agreement to introduce free travel for commuters [13].
April 29 2022 Transport for NSW agreed to have One Agreement for both Sydney and NSW Trains [11].
May 13 2022 Negotiations aimed at halting industrial action have hit a roadblock after five weeks of enterprise agreement talks between rail unions and the NSW government [14].
May 16 2022 RTBU meets with Dominic Perrottet (Premier) about the backflip and he promises to investigate [11].
June 29, 2022 Action by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) has begun, with delays and cancellations expected on Sydney trains and the NSW TrainLink network. The strike action will restrict train services in Sydney to 60km/h [15].
June 30, 2022 Transport Secretary refuses to sign the deed drafted by his department until full enterprise agreement is signed off on [11].
July 5, 2022 As the Fair Work Commission denies government attempts to halt industrial action. Sydneysiders will be hit by more train delays after the Fair Work Commission (FWC) rejected the state government's legal proposal to halt planned industrial action by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) [16].
July 9, 2022 Transport workers can continue to take strike action on Sydney Trains and the NSW rail network following a ruling by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) [11].
July 25, 2022 NSW train services will be affected by industrial action again this week as the union strikes.The industrial action will stop the network from midnight until 4am on Thursday (July, 28), but the strike may impact services from 9pm on Wednesday through until 8am on Thursday [17].
August In August, the union went on a month-long rotating strike, Opal card readers were shut down, cleaning crews were told not to work, and different train lines across the city were closed on different days .
Aug 10, 2022 Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) said in a statement earlier that there would be "significant disruption" across the network on Wednesday due to the workers' strike, particularly on T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra and South Coast services [18].
Aug 17, 2022 Workers will be on strike for 6 hours as part of the ongoing industrial action. Four lines on the T3 Bankstown, T2 Inner West and Leppington, T8 Airport and Southern lines and the Southern Highlands line are expected to be affected [19].
August 25, 2022 The strike, which could have been cancelled, caused commuters distress, as the covenant agreeing to amend the new intercity fleet was submitted too late, taking at least 48 hours to submit [20].
August 30, 2022 A month of industrial action and widespread disruption to NSW train services will culminate with rail workers refusing to operate foreign-made trains. Most timetables will be reduced to a 30-minute frequency; however no services will run on the T5 Cumberland and T7 Olympic Park line [21].
October 13,2022 The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) announced that its members voted to shut down the Opal machine reader as its protected industrial action escalated again [11].
Nov 12, 2022 Transport for NSW announced that all train lines will be running on reduced timetables on Saturday November 12 and Sunday November 13, with no services operating on the T5 line between Richmond and Leppington [22].
Nov 18, 2022 Sydney commuters can enjoy a week of free train travel aimed at stopping industrial action by the Rail Trains and Buses Union (RTBU). The New South Wales government announced Friday that Opal card readers will be turned off this week, meaning passengers will not need to swipe their cards to swipe during their journey [23].

Maps[edit | edit source]

Policy Issues[edit | edit source]

The 2022 Sydney Trains industrial action was largely related to policy issues. Disagreements between the Union and the NSW Government on employer safety and wellbeing, and the safety of the train system arise from and are settled with policies. The labour strikes are used a means to persuade the Government to change their policies and come to a compromised agreement. Some organisations include the Unions are protected by the fair work act, which outlines laws around industrial action and enterprise agreements.

Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink Enterprise Agreement[edit | edit source]

Section 183 of the Fair Work Act 2009 [24]states that employee organisations are entitled to an enterprise agreement to cover them. The Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink Enterprise Agreement [25]covers areas such as the wage cap, employer redundancy policies, and employer contracts. When the state government proposed a three year enterprise agreement with Unions NSW, the new terms were not supported by the Union. They claim the proposed wage cap increase did not suffice given the high inflation rate, and that the agreement would eliminate jobs and reduce the amount of full time work[26].This is one of the contributing factors to the industrial action.

Ultimately, a compromise was reached, with the Government proposing a two-year agreement, Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink Enterprise Agreement 2022, geared towards what the Unions were striving for.

Safety and Wellbeing Policy[edit | edit source]

One of the issues regarding the new fleet of trains was safety. The cameras on the new trains had a blind spot below 1.1m[26], which the Union can argue breaches the Safety and Wellbeing Policy[27]. This policy states that elimination of risk should be sought before minimisation of risk, and that workers should be engaged with health safety and wellbeing goals[27]. Given the Union believed that the new fleet of trains were not safe for customers, and the wage cap increase was not adequate for the wellbeing of workers, they have the grounds to protest based on this policy. The Sydney Trains Health and Safety Policy[28] provokes similar arguments.  

Risk Management Policy[29][edit | edit source]

The NSW government has established a strict risk management framework to ensure 'risks across all areas of business are identified and understood, effectively managed and monitored. Each level of employee is delegated responsibilities. The responsibility of Staff workers is to 'Identify risk issues and concerns (and escalate to management, if necessary) and implement specific risk management action'. Under this policy, the Union is obliged to escalate their safety concerns with the new fleet, and it is the higher authorities job to ensure these risks are understood and managed appropriately. The governments reluctance to change their proposed enterprise agreement motivated the Union to also strike on safety grounds.

Asset Management and Procurement[edit | edit source]

The safety issues opposed by the Union are to do with a newly ordered fleet of trains by the NSW Government. There are asset management and transport procurement policies in place to oversees such deals. The Sydney Trains Asset Management policy calls to 'optimise decision making through consideration of safety, cost, risk and performance'[30]. The NSW Government claims the new trains are an improvement on the previous fleet, however the Union disputes that there are related risks and safety issues which is where this policy becomes controversial.

The NSW Transport Procurement Policy states that transport infrastructure should be customer centred, create jobs for NSW citizens, Support businesses and consider risks and apply a high standard of ethics[31]. The Union believed it was doing none of those things.

On the other hand, the government would have claimed the new train fleet would 'Achieve better customer outcomes as per the asset management policy [32], and improve and innovate across the procurement lifecycle to maximise value for money for gov perspective as per the transport procurement policy[31].

Protected action ballot[edit | edit source]

The Fair Work Act 2009 provides clear rules governing industrial action[24]. When employees take action to support claims in relation to an enterprise agreement, and it is authorised by secret ballot, it becomes protected industrial action. Protected industrial action means they have immunity from civil liability under State or Territory law.

In 2022, the Union voted 93% for industrial action in a protected action ballot, granting the action protected[33].  

NSW Industrial Relations Act[edit | edit source]

The wage cap issue would not be a problem if it weren't for the introduction of section 146C to the NSW Industrial Relations Act of 1966 in the year 2011. This section allowed the NSW Liberal-National government sole authority over wage determination in NSW. The Industrial Relations Commission must therefore give effect to policies regarding the wage cap. Hence, the enterprise agreement of 2022.[26].

Government Response[edit | edit source]

Given the large scale of the industrial action, and the effect it was having on the economy, the government reacted by threatening to introduce several new policies in order to restrict the impact and extent of the strikes. This included introducing a bill to increase strike fines by 550% as well as ‘acting in concert’ laws which would stop unions from campaigning six months leading up to the 2023 NSW state election. Neither bill passed[26].

Narrative[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

Sydney Trains operates rail services in Greater Sydney, stretching from Berowra in the north, Emu Plains in the west, and Macarthur and Waterfall in the south. There are 168 stations on this network, with 418 000 (2021-22 figures) customers each weekday[34].

As well as operating rail services, Sydney Trains is also responsible for operating the Rail Operations Centre, and for the maintenance of their tracks, trains and stations, signals, overhead wiring and facilities as well as the majority of those used by NSW TrainLink’s intercity rail network[35].

Sydney Trains' workers are represented by the Australian Rail, Bus and Tram industry union (RBTU). The RBTU’s primary goal is to protect and build workers’ rights at work as well as lobbying and representing their members’ rights in the workplace and industry through ensuring a safe workplace, and maintaining pay and conditions[36].  

The New Intercity Fleet (NIF) and the safety issues relating to the lack of a train guard during operations is loosely intertwined with the labour relations and ongoing negotiations. The New Intercity Fleet was designed by the NSW Government and intended to be operated with a driver only, and CCTV to be used to check for clearance at the doors of the train after stopping at stations. To further complicate, the NSW Government related the issues of the NIF safety issues with the Sydney Trains Enterprise Agreement negotiations due to the industrial action which was taken by rail shunters and signallers which were part of the union.[37]  However, this was used in the negotiation process despite the unions calling for two separate negotiations. This created overall confusion for the general public.  

In June 2021, bargaining for a new enterprise agreement began. An enterprise agreement is an agreement which outlines the terms and conditions relating to a group of people’s employment. This includes their wages. Between June 2021 and February 2022, there were negotiations between the RBTU and the state government, however there was no progress with negotiations. By September 2021, members of the RBTU began to take industrial action[38].

On 18 February 2022, the NSW Government made an attempt to remove the right for the union members to take industrial action by taking the issue to the Fair Work Commission. However this failed and industrial action continued.[38]

The key event[edit | edit source]

Then, on 21 February 2022, the entire Sydney railway network was shut down by the NSW Government. No notice was given to workers about this and railway workers were “locked out”[38]. Initial media reports blamed the union and its workers, however further clarification into the events revealed that that railway workers arrived to work, but were not allowed to work. The railway network reopened the next day.

Between March 2022 and July 2022, negotiations continued relating to the enterprise agreements, as well as the safety concerns relating to the New Intercity Fleet (NIF). The NSW Government position on the matter was that changes to the NIF would be made if the RBTU signed off on the pay rise that was in line with their wages policy.[38]

Resolution[edit | edit source]

The Sydney Trains Enterprise Agreement was finally signed on 31 January 2023[39], and includes a wage increase for workers and well as giving the Fair Work Commission power to determine if their wage increase should be higher than the rate outlined in the NSW Wage Policy. This allows an independent body to decide on the wage increase rate. As part of this agreement, workers are enabled conditions such as additional leave for family and domestic violence, as well as improved job security and support for professional registration[40].  

Meanwhile, the Deed relating to the NIF and the need to implement changes to the fleet was signed off on November 25, 2022.[37]

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

1) Do negotiations really make a difference to the issues surrounding and the outcomes of the Sydney labour strikes?

2) How has industrial action and lockdown measures on Sydney Trains affected the quality of public transport services? What are the passenger and socio-economic impacts of this?

3) If different policies were in place would the strikes have happened? Were the motivations of each party justified?

4) What implications have the strikes had on customer perceptions of the government, Sydney Trains and rail in Greater Sydney?

5) What steps should Sydney Trains take to prevent the recurrence of labour relations issues, industrial action, and lockouts in the future?

Additional Readings[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Transport for NSW, Customer Experience Division. "Train". Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  2. "Sydney". TourbyTransit. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  3. unionsnsw. "NSW and Sydney Train Lock-Out Why are the trains not running? Why has the government locked out rail workers?". unionsnsw. Retrieved 21-04-2023. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |access-date= (help); line feed character in |title= at position 30 (help)
  4. a b "NSW train dispute ends as union votes to accept government deal" (in en-AU). ABC News. 2023-01-30. 
  5. a b transportnsw (2020-05-19). "Against the 'Privatisation' of Transport". Transport NSW Blog. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  6. unionsnsw. "NSW and Sydney Train Strike: An Explainer Why is there a Sydney Train strike? How will the strike affect you?". unionsnsw. Retrieved 21-04-2023. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |access-date= (help); line feed character in |title= at position 42 (help)
  7. "What Sydney's train strikes are all about". Australian Financial Review. 2022-07-27. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  8. "【观点】悉尼华人火车司机:铁路为何总是"罢工"?工会的诉求是什么?". SBS Language (in Simplified Chinese). Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  9. McGowan, Michael (2022-11-17). "Federal industrial relations minister Tony Burke blasts NSW government over train dispute" (in en-GB). The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. 
  10. O'Sullivan, Tom Rabe, Matt (2022-08-30). "Train and bus industrial disputes set to paralyse Sydney's public transport network". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  11. a b c d e f g RTBU, NSW BRANCH (20-11-2022). "Sydney & NSW Trains Enterprise Bargaining 2021-2 & the New Intercity Fleet An explainer for RTBU members" (PDF). ourrightsourfight. Retrieved 21-04-2023. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |access-date= and |date= (help); line feed character in |title= at position 75 (help)
  12. "Sydney rail strike affects thousands of commuters". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  13. Rabe, Tom (2022-03-24). "Fare free days ahead for Sydney commuters as industrial action averted". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  14. "Sydney train strike to ease today". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  15. "NSW will be hit with a train strike this week. Here's what to expect". 7NEWS. 2022-07-26. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  16. "Strike - 9News - Latest news and headlines from Australia and the world". Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  17. "NSW will be hit with a train strike this week. Here's what to expect". 7NEWS. 2022-07-26. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  18. Achenza, Madeleine (10-08-2022). "South Sydney commuters face day of major delays and disruption on rail network as workers strike". Retrieved 21-04-2023. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |access-date= and |date= (help)
  19. Wang, Jessica (17-08-2022). "Sydney train strike: Commuters hit with travel chaos due to industrial action". Retrieved 21-04-2023. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |access-date= and |date= (help)
  20. "Sydney train commuters facing another strike today despite NSW Government concessions". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  21. Gramenz, Jack (2022-08-30). "Final day of disruption on NSW trains". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  22. Modaro, Erin (2022-11-11). "Rail Union's industrial actions to bring train delays this weekend". City Hub Sydney | Your Local Independent News. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  23. UnionsNSW (21-04-2023). "Free Trains: An Explainer Are trains in Sydney and NSW free? Why are trains free?". unionsnsw. Retrieved 21-04-2023. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |access-date= and |date= (help); line feed character in |title= at position 26 (help)
  24. a b Australian Government. (2009). Fair Work Act 2009. Australian Government
  25. Fair Work Commission. (2023). Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink Enterprise Agreement 2022. Fair Work Commission
  26. a b c d Unions NSW. (2021). NSW and Sydney Train Strike: An Explainer. Retrieved from Unions NSW:
  27. a b NSW Government. (2021). Safety and Wellbeing Policy. NSW Government
  28. NSW Government. (2019). Sydney Trains’ Health and Safety Policy. NSW Government
  29. NSW Government. (2010). Risk Management Policy. NSW Government
  30. NSW Government. (2020). Sydney Trains' Asset Management Policy. NSW Government
  31. a b NSW Government. (2020). Transport Procurement Policy. NSW Governmen
  32. NSW Government. (2021). Asset Management Policy. Asset Management Policy
  33. Unions NSW. (2023). Unions NSW Annual Report 2022. Unions NSW
  34. "Sydney Trains Annual Report 2021-2022" (PDF). 2022. {{cite web}}: |first= missing |last= (help)
  35. NSW, Transport for (2018-01-22). "Sydney Trains". Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  36. "Benefits". RTBU Express. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  37. a b Mew, Alana (2022-11-30). "Your questions from the Sydney and NSW Trains online member meeting answered". RTBU Express. Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  38. a b c d "How did we get here? Sydney & NSW Trains Enterprise Bargaining 2021-2 & the New Intercity Fleet" (PDF). 2022. {{cite web}}: |first= missing |last= (help)
  39. "93 per cent of rail workers back the NSW Government's Enterprise Agreement offer". January 31 2023. {{cite web}}: |first= missing |last= (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  40. "UNION WIN: Sydney Trains". Retrieved 2023-04-21.