[Image Source: Christian Gilles]
Sydney Train workers voted to proceed with a 24-hour strike – the first in almost two decades – following a supposedly overwhelming ‘NO’ vote to stop the industrial action from taking place.
The strike will occur on Monday next week, although an overtime ban which will significantly reduce the number of services will take place beginning Thursday. This comes after a fortnight of negotiations with the NSW Government which have seemingly fell through, and although the decision has been supposedly made, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance is still hopeful that the strike can be averted before Monday.
The actions take place before the Australia Day long weekend, and the proposed strike on the day that NSW school students return for the 2018 year after the Christmas holidays. The Monday strike will also strand the more than one million commuters that rely on the network to navigate the city every day. The impact of such a strike has been estimated by Sydney Business Chamber executive director Patricia Forsythe to cost the Sydney economy $100 million.
While the Rail, Tram and Bus Union continues to push for its six per cent annual pay rise, the State Government is holding strong on its 2.75 per cent plus $1000 lump sum position. The offer holds largely in line with the wages policy set out by the government, which also applies other public sector employees such as teachers, nurses and police. The union had sent out a text message, asking members whether to cancel the strike action in response to the offer, but less than six percent supported the notion.
The text in question has come under fire, due its seemingly skewed ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ voting scheme. The ‘YES’ vote required an explicit response, whilst the ‘NO’ counterpart simply required the message be ignored. When industrial action was initially voted for, only around 3000 of the 9550 strong workforce were in favour of taking action. Looking at the union members alone, those in favour scraped a bare majority at 57 per cent. Although technically votes on two different actions, the credibility of surveying opinions with such text messages, especially seemingly biased in favour of the ‘NO’ vote on the second occasion but not the initial, remains largely questionable.
Those in favour of the strike, however, are seemingly fixed on the position. Of the Sydney Trains employees who initially voted to take the action, 94 per cent are in favour of stopping services up to 72 hours. Some appear to be fervent in the cause, with Railpage Australia sharing a World Socialist Web Site article calling for workers to adopt a ‘socialist perspective’ on the matter and to take the fight to ‘big business government’.
While negotiations continue, it appears unlikely the Union will give an inch on its six per cent position, and unless the government caves on its otherwise uniform wages policy, Monday will mark chaos for the million commuters that rely on the service, and a serious hit to the economy of the largest city in Australia.