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Your questions from the Sydney and NSW Trains online member meeting answered

Nov 30, 2022News

Members submitted a number of questions during the Sydney and NSW Trains online member meeting held on Monday 22 November. Below is an overview of all of the questions received, and answers to those questions.

As always, if you have any further questions, please speak with your local delegate or contact the union office directly.

If you missed the online meeting, you can watch the video here.

What is the timeline for the enterprise agreement to be finalised?

As of last Friday, we now have three steps to get the EA finalised:

  • Roadshows to meet with members to discuss the proposed EA (these will happen in the next few weeks)
  • A vote of employees on all successfully negotiated new conditions (over 80 in total)
  • The Fair Work Commission will arbitrate the outstanding items of wages and backpay, and whether CSAs will receive the cleaning allowance.

Aren’t the NIF safety improvements separate from the EBA negotiations?

The NSW Government tried to muddy the waters by tying the two separate issues together.

We need safe trains AND a fair enterprise agreement.

However, throughout this campaign they have been intrinsically intertwined for a number of reasons. The first one being that the only thing that stopped the Government from rolling out these unsafe trains was the industrial action being taken by RTBU signallers and shunters, who have had a long running ban on the NIF.

The second reason is that the NSW Government refused to uncouple the NIF from the EA. We wanted the Deed to the NIF and the necessary safety modifications to be signed so we could get on with negotiating the rest of the EA. Unfortunately, the government repeatedly and immorally used the NIF as a bargaining chip, threatening to rip up our EA, renege on conditions and tear up the deed.

Workers should not be forced to pay for the NSW Government’s mistake with the NIF, nor should workers be bullied into accepting unsafe trains in order to get an agreement signed off.
As of Friday 25th of November, the Deed on the NIF has finally been signed by the Government!

Will there be backpay involved?

This will now be decided by the Fair Work Commission. We will put in written submissions detailing that our members deserve every cent of backpay that they are owed.

How are EA delegates chosen? And how do they make decisions on the direction we go in?

EA Delegates were chosen by their respective divisions through the Union’s normal democratic processes back in 2020.

Our EA delegates have an extremely difficult job, which they do incredibly well. They make decisions as a group caucus on the best advice they have at the time, be that legal, political or industrial advice.

All strategy is carefully devised based on expert knowledge and experience, input from members and with the ultimate goals in mind.

The obvious options aren’t always the most strategic. Nor is it true that doing the same things that have been done in the past is always the best approach.

Our EA delegates deserve a big thanks for the tireless effort they’ve put in throughout the campaign.

How can we find out who is on the Expenditure Review Committee?

Good question. No one seems to know the exact answer to that. Even the rail entities do not know who sits on the ERC. This was admitted by Sydney Trains and NSW Trains in the Fair Work Commission. We do have some kind of idea of who sits on it now, but it is a very secretive part of government. Our best intel is that it is made up of the Premier, Treasurer, Deputy Premier, Industrial Relations Minister and some other random ministers.

Has the fare free week destroyed the government’s court case against us?

The government’s arguments around our action were confusing at best. They were claiming publicly that giving commuters free travel was economic vandalism, but when the government gives free fares it is apparently economy boosting…

The other argument they were using publicly was that it was apparently unsafe to turn off the Opal machines….but then they did exactly that this month. The short answer? Hopefully.

What is the point of fighting for free fares? How does lessening public anger achieve anything on our front?

It’s important to look at the bigger picture here. It’s not about “lessening anger from the public” it’s about thinking strategically. If the public are on our side, that is a threat to the NSW Government and a power to us because the Government’s number 1 priority is always their own jobs. Commuters are voters. Their second priority is money. The Government is more likely to respond to a financial hit rather than train delays.

Why is the state government determined to get us to fund our own federally mandated super increase?

Great question. The inclusion of superannuation in Government pay offers is a feature across the public sector. It’s a contemptuous attempt to mislead workers into assuming they are getting a higher pay rise than they actually are.

Governments and employers have long tried to bundle up super and wage increases to muddy the water around what people will actually receive in their pockets. To try and make workers pay for their own super is outrageous.

Back in 2012, the Union movement actually took the Government to the Supreme Court of NSW to try and stop them from including superannuation in wage offers. Unfortunately, the Court deemed such a move by Government as legal.

Whenever the Union communicates a wage position, it will NEVER have superannuation included.

What is a realistic pay rise?

The Fair Work Commission will now determine what a “fair and reasonable” pay rise is for Sydney Trains and NSW Trains workers. However, we have managed to lock in an absolute minimum figure for each year of the Agreement (2.53% for 2022-2023, backdated at a minimum to May 2022, and 3.03% for May 2023-May 2024). Again, this is a minimum, and we will be pushing in the FWC for more.

What is currently happening in the Fair Work Commission?

This entire EA campaign has been a fast-moving and ever-changing beast.

For an up-to-date answer to this question, we recommend catching up on recent news updates at www.ourrightsourfight.com.au

Is there a chance this week could see the end of bargaining?

Ultimately, there will be no resolution until members vote up an agreement you believe offers you the fair wages and conditions you deserve. After the events of last week, we do have an end in sight for the first time since negotiations commenced. Keep an eye out for updates on roadshows prior to the EA going out to members for a vote.

How can you say you fight for members when most of the decisions made haven’t been run by members?

The RTBU has its democratic structures in place to ensure that members are represented throughout these negotiations. Negotiation is often a fast-paced effort that requires quick decision making, and it would be impossible to bargain and run every single decision past the whole membership every time.

All key decisions are made by the EA delegates at a minimum. EA delegates have been elected to represent the interests of members in their areas. This democratic structure allows us to balance being nimble with ensuring every step is made with the feedback and best interests of the membership at its core.

Inflation has risen 10% since our last pay increase. What is our strategy to win a pay rise in line with inflation?

The FWC is going to make a decision on how much higher our wage increase should be than the Government’s wages cap. Inflation and cost of living is one of the factors that is taken into account when it is making that decision. The FWC routinely sets wage levels in the minimum wage decision each year – if you’re interested you can read their most recent decision here – https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2022fwcfb3500.htm

Can you clarify the issue of separate EA for Sydney and NSW Trains?

We are stronger together. One of the of the key claims in our log of claims was that we would all be under one enterprise agreement.

Having two agreements and playing one section of the membership against the other plays into the hands of management and the government. Everyone deserves the best possible wages and conditions. We are proud to say that one of the big wins of this EA campaign is that our members will now be under one agreement.

How do we combat the constant announcements by management that all delays are due to industrial action?

This has been a tactic used by management and the NSW Government throughout the dispute. We’ve been publicly correcting the record at every opportunity through the media and other means and while it might not stop management trying it on, it is clearly not working for them as well as they’d hoped.

Multiple public polls show that the general public recognise that the NSW Government is the major reason behind the dispute.

If Labor win the election, will the EA be resolved quicker?

We want a fair enterprise agreement and safe trains, now and post this current EA bargaining campaign. Whoever is in government needs to deliver that, and we’ll always fight to secure those things no matter who is in government.

Why aren’t we targeting peak with strikes/shutdown?

It is very clear that the NSW Government tried to force us into taking action that impacts commuters because they were hoping that the public tide of support would move against us and they wanted us to cross a threshold that would get our action taken away from us, the NIF on the tracks without any safety modifications and our agreement arbitrated without consent.

Because of unjust legislation around industrial action, throughout this campaign we have had to be strategic so as not to jeopardise the entire EA and efforts of members. We know it seems counterintuitive to worry about things like a Section 424 under the Fair Work Act when talking about striking for workplace rights, but there is a lot at stake here. If we were taken to the FWC and lost, we would have lost the ability to take action and potentially end up with an arbitrated outcome of all claims and conditions (which may have seen members lose conditions). If we got forced into an arbitrated EA without our consent for arbitration (this is different to an arbitration by consent) that means workers wouldn’t get a vote on the outcome. The threat of losing all industrial action throughout this campaign meant we would have lost our strongest tool to achieve a positive outcome for members. We had an ambitious log of claims, many of which we’ve secured, through negotiating in good faith while the Government carried on. We’ve done really well throughout this campaign of dancing the line between disruptive action and still making progress and keeping the power in workers hands.

All of the key decisions are made by our enterprise agreement delegates who work in consultation with members and make decisions based on strategic experience, knowledge and with the ultimate goal in mind.

How can we stop the government back tracking on points that have already been agreed to?

The government has attempted to backtrack on a number of points already agreed to in negotiations. By standing strong and united and continuing to fight for what we know is right, we’ll get there.

Additionally, now that we have undertakings on the record at the Fair Work Commission, reneging on commitments now is far less of a threat. It would also be the stupidest possible thing the NSW Government could do.

The government just spend 22mil on free travel – what’s the cost of a 0.5% pay increase for workers in relation to that?

0.5% is roughly about $10 million so if we are using the figure of 22mil, that means they have wasted 1.1% when they could have just got on with the job at hand. Add onto that the cost of the NIF sitting in the sheds at $30 million a month and there is no other possible conclusion other than the Government didn’t want to offer a fair pay rise based entirely on ideology. It’s not about money or paying our members what they’re worth, it’s about not wanting to bust their own unfair and arbitrary wages cap that suppresses the wages and conditions of all public service workers in this state.

Can we take the government to the Anti-Discrimination commission if the FWC rules in our favour by saying the government has not bargained in good faith?
No, there is no legal issue of discrimination here. We are however currently awaiting the decision from our Good Faith Bargaining case in the FWC. We anticipate we will get a result on this before Christmas.

Can you please explain how we had something such as drivers CA and WOBOD was so important it was a functional at the last EA, but now it was slipped in on the dodge with minimal people voting on it this EA?

The driver’s Cab Allowance and the Working on a Book Off Day (WOBOD) payment were claims submitted by members through our Log of Claims survey conducted at the outset of this bargain.

Members across Sydney and NSW Trains made it clear that we should try to get the Cab Allowance incorporated into the hourly rate, so it is paid “all purposes” (including overtime, penalties, annual leave, sick leave, long service leave, and additional payments like lift up/lay back etc).

Our log of claims survey also identified that members supported a WOBOD payment due to the benefits of the changed payment structure and the fact the WOBOD payment is indexed, increasing by each EA increase, something the Overtime Bonus never did.

For clarity, these claims were not part of a “functional in the last EA” but rather proposals through the Clause 12 “Future Operations” project.

Station rostering procedures: where is this up to? And have regional staff been involved?

This is one of the outstanding claims still being negotiated through conciliation at the FWC. The rostering arrangements have significantly progressed, however they are not yet complete. The EA will contain a clause that says these arrangements have to be finished and agreed within 3 months and if they’re not, the FWC will make a decision on what they should be.

Why have you skipped the pay rise from 2021? We miss super and that is a gap that will never be achieved again.

We haven’t skipped 2021. Our claim was always for backpay until 1 May 2021. In the Agreement in-principle reached last Friday, 25 November 2022, there is a $4,500 payment for that period and FWC is going to arbitrate what the back pay for that time should be (on which super will be payable on).

Why have we proposed an offer with a 2 in front of it?

Our claim has always been either 3.5% (which was the figure in our log of claims) or a higher amount. The CRU offer (which mentioned a figure of 2.53%) contained 3 pay rises over a period of 2 years. This would have been an 8.59% pay rise from May 2022-May 2024 when the Agreement ends.

The Agreement in-principle reached on Friday has minimum remuneration increases and has the FWC making a decision on how much higher the wage increase would be.

What is the latest with clause 12? At one stage, the government said they weren’t asking us to give it away. ls this still the case?

There are two parts to this answer. The first is that, as part of negotiations, we agreed to a minor change to clause 12 if we received a signed deed on the safety modifications on the NIF which was not tied to an EA vote. This is only a cosmetic change to clause 12, which removes the requirement for the employers to gain support for any proposed changes from the Union Office before going to a vote of employees. For all intents and purposes, this does not change the process of clause 12.