In late October, after nearly a year of intense negotiations and protected industrial action, members of the ETU and other unions employed by Metro Trains voted to accept agreements that ensure them a good and fair set of wages and conditions while also enabling Melbourne’s trains to run efficiently and safely over the coming three years.
ETU organiser Gerry Glover says that, during the prolonged dispute, the unions took pains to minimise inconvenience to commuters while keeping pressure on Metro Trains.
‘What we did not realise,’ adds Gerry, ‘was that a promise made by Ted Baillieu prior to the last election – that trains would run on the weekend on a Monday-to-Friday timetable – would have such an effect on negotiations.
‘The Government instructed Metro to bring on the new timetable. And because they were not increasing the number of trains, the company’s only position on bringing in such a change was to alter the way train maintenance was conducted and when it was being done. Hence their demands for a major change on rostering and an alteration of how major maintenance exams were done (by carving up the major exam into smaller ones).’
Dead Ted thinks something up, but doesn’t think it through
So this story really starts back in 2010 Victorian election campaign.
‘And when he became the accidental Premier, Ted Baillieu demanded that the franchise holder implemented his commitment – which had never been thought through – and shut his office door.’
The result was that, when the EBA negotiations began, access to the Premier’s and Transport Minister’s offices and their senior bureaucrats that had been available under previous Labor Governments was no longer there.
‘The Baillieu Government washed its hands of the whole problem it had created, and said it was Metro Train’s business to fix it,’ adds Troy.
Metro Trains bosses open their bottom drawer…
Metro Trains demanded the power to introduce changes to rosters and hours of work unilaterally. This broke a condition of employment that had been in place for more than fifty years.
‘On top of those changes to rosters that would have had dramatic and negative effects on workers’ family and social lives, Metro’s proposals would have meant significant cuts to take-home pays,’ says Gerry Glover.
‘So it was agreed among the unions at that early stage that we would definitely end up applying for protected action, as the company began removing and diminishing around 70 per cent hard-won conditions from the current agreement.’
…but get their fingers jammed
The industrial actions, in both Metro’s Infrastructure and Rolling Stock divisions, began to bite, and the company’s hardline position started to waiver. Sensing this, the unions’ negotiating team wasted no time in clawing back many of the conditions laid down in the previous Metro trains agreement.
The first agreement to be struck covered Infrastructure workers, where the ETU has 260 members – a combination of electricians, signal technicians, lineworkers and assistants.
‘The action all unions were participating in was purely targeting rail construction work. We were very careful not to affect the community in any way – our blue was with Metro,’ Gerry points out.
‘We reached an in-principle agreement early in September – and following members’ voting support and Fair Work Australia approval, the agreement became operative on 31 October.’
All-Clear given before Caulfield Cup Day
However, the campaign was less straightforward in Rolling Stock, where we cover 160 members. There was less scope there to take industrial action that would not adversely affect commuters. To find a way through, Gerry convened a meeting at the ETU office attended by Troy Gray, Howard Worthing and our lawyers, along with representatives from the other unions involved in the Metro dispute.
‘We decided to apply to FWA for assistance, while at the same time going ahead with industrial action already set in place to target the Caulfield Cup,’ says Gerry.
‘From this point on, negotiations only improved, and at 10am on Thursday 18 October – just three hours before our action was to begin – an agreement was reached and the action called off. The following week, we began a series of depot meetings in Rolling Stock to get an in-principle agreement, which I can say was overwhelmingly voted for in favour.
‘On behalf of the ETU, I would like to thank all members, and especially our shop stewards and delegates. In the end, a job well done.
‘The members of the unions affected stood firm, and their negotiating team never took a backwards step.’
The agreements cover 1118 Metro workers (718 in Infrastructure, and 400 in Rolling Stock), of whom 420 are ETU members.