Emergency meeting ahead of NSW rail action

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NSW transport and finance ministers will attend an emergency meeting with the Rail, Tram and Bus Union as they seek to avoid industrial action due next week.

Finance Minister Damien Tudehope and Transport Minister David Elliott are expected to attend Friday’s meeting at 5 p.m. after the morning meeting was cancelled.

Train drivers will run more slowly and refuse to operate overseas-built trains as part of four days of industrial action, announced after Friday’s 9am meeting was cancelled.

Union secretary Alex Claassens said he was told the morning meeting was canceled around 10 p.m. Thursday when he was involved in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout. He said he had received no explanation.

Transport for NSW informed the union on Friday afternoon of a 5pm meeting. This gives the state government one last chance to stop the industrial action which was due to begin on Tuesday.

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Mr Claassens said the government would have to accept modifications to the new trains in the intercity fleet, the first of which was delivered in 2019 but never entered service.

Treasurer Matt Kean said in May that storing the trains was costing the government about $30 million a month.

Claassens said he was told before the budget that a $300 million line item would address issues the union said would make the train unsafe. But he has since learned that the money was part of the existing contract.

Mr. Tudehope was asked on Thursday if the money from the budget was for the changes requested by the union.

“I take note of that,” he said.

“There are still negotiations to be had on how we will come to an agreement with the union in terms of the variety of demands they are presenting.”

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Mr Tudehope said the new trains were state-of-the-art and had been approved by the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator.

The union previously said the safety assessment was carried out by the same company that built the trains and that it had independent assessments of differing opinions.

If there is no result on Friday afternoon, the industrial action will start on Tuesday with a slowing motion when drivers do not exceed 60 km/h.

On Wednesday, members are banned indefinitely from returning to the Rail Operations Center and will only work from their current depots on Thursday. There will also be an indefinite ban on work related to the Sydney Underground.

On Friday, members would refuse to drive foreign-built trains, decommissioning new trains introduced since 2011.

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Mr Claassens said the network would operate at around 30% capacity without these trains. It has already done so in recent months when the union took similar action.

“Management has a schedule they can run where they know what trains they can use and how it will work,” he said.

“They’ve done it before, they can do it again.”

Mr Claassens said workers had acted in good faith during the lengthy negotiations for a company bargaining agreement after the old one expired more than a year ago, but their patience was running out.

“To be honest, they’re a bit frustrated with me and other people saying to them, ‘let’s give the government a chance to do this right’…they’ve had plenty of time and yet they’re still stalling. “, he said.

-PAA

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