Australia’s busiest rail network will again face widespread disruptions on Wednesday after the government failed to prevent a ramping up of industrial action.
The Fair Work Commission on Tuesday rejected a bid by the NSW government to put an end to rolling strikes that have affected the network over recent weeks.
The ruling only applies to an interim order that would have seen an emergency stop to Wednesday’s action, with further hearings scheduled for Thursday that may yield a different result.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union representatives said Wednesday’s industrial action would reduce train operations to about 70 per cent.
The union said in a release it had backed off from an earlier plan to reduce services even more because of the heavy rain.
“It’s great that the Fair Work Commission has sided with the union and agreed that our planned actions should continue, but the reality is we had already moved to ensure additional services would be available this week to assist during the current weather conditions,” RTBU NSW secretary Alex Claassens said.
Metropolitan Roads Minister Natalie Ward, filling in for the Transport Minister, said the union’s decision was a “big step in the right direction”.
“But it doesn’t entirely deal with the impact of the industrial action,” she said.
“The proceedings in the Fair Work Commission remain on foot … and will be heard in full on Thursday.”
Sydney Trains chief executive Howard Collins said the trains were already operating at about 80 per cent capacity on Tuesday due to challenging weather conditions.
He estimated trains would run at about 60 per cent capacity on Wednesday.
“Obviously if you can avoid travel tomorrow and remain at home or not go to work that’d be great,” he urged commuters.
“If you’re travelling early tomorrow, check before you travel make sure your training is running.
“And if you can, delay your journey particularly in the peak where we expect we’ll be under the most pressure in terms of people travelling.”
At the centre of the current dispute is the RBTU’s refusal for its members to drive a new fleet of foreign-built trains over safety concerns.
It says the guards on the train won’t be able to prevent accidents if the trains aren’t modified so that new CCTV screens, communication buttons and door controls are added.
The government recently agreed to spend $264m on safety improvements to the Korean-built New Intercity Fleet following discussions with the union.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet gave his word that would happen but the union wants an agreement in writing to cement the changes before it ceases industrial action.
Ms Ward criticised the union for going ahead with the industrial action despite the promise to modify the trains.
“It is disappointing that the unions continue to take these steps because ultimately this just impacts on the people of NSW,” she said.
”It is disrupting, still, across the network that we don’t have that full capacity.”
“We’ve come to the table in these negotiations. And we know that those trains are safe. They should be on the tracks.”