NSW commuters could hypothetically enjoy weeks of free travel on the state’s train lines after the rail union delivered another blow to the state government with more industrial action.
From 6am on Saturday, staff will leave all gates open at all times at stations across the state, meaning travellers do need to tap on and off to get inside.
Usually this could result in a commuter receiving a fine or caution, but the union already banned transport officers from issuing fines and cautions less than a week ago.
Both industrial actions are set to remain in place until September 6.
A cheeky post from the Rail, Tram and Bus Union’s (RTBU) Facebook page suggested to commuters that “perhaps it’s a good time to go travelling this weekend”.
Passengers will still be able to tap on and off their Opal Cards during this time.
It comes after the RTBU’s long-running dispute with the NSW government went to another level during the week.
The T4 Eastern and Illawarra and South Coast lines did not run from 10am to 4pm on Wednesday amid industrial action from the union.
It led to frustrated customers and crowded scenes at train stations in Sydney’s east and the state’s south after a limited hourly service and replacement buses only ran during that period.
Sydney Trains and the RTBU deflected blame for why the line was shut down for a large part of the day.
Sydney Trains chief executive Matthew Longland said it was due to the union’s industrial action.
“The reason we haven’t been able to run a (regular) timetable on the T4 line is because of industrial action. It’s not because of anything Sydney Trains or the NSW government is doing to stop services from running,” he said on Wednesday.
But RTBU NSW secretary Alex Claassens said it was the government’s choice to not allow trains to run on the Illawarra line.
“The industrial action being taken by rail workers today (Wednesday) has been carefully designed to ensure commuter services can still run and impacts only around 10 per cent of all available train crew,” he said.
“We knew that we could easily get additional staff from other areas of the network over into that area so they could run more than the one-hour service that they’ve actually done.”
Following the strike action on Wednesday, the union met with state Employment Relations Minister Damian Tudehope, Regional Transport Minister Sam Farraway and Mr Longland on Thursday night.
The dispute between the two parties is centred on the union’s safety concerns with a $2.8bn intercity train fleet and a new pay deal.
The fleet has been left to collect dust in storage, with the union refusing to operate it until safety issues are fixed.
The government had offered to spend $264m to fix these problems, but the RTBU wanted it to commit to that funding in a written deed and address concerns with their enterprise agreement in a written deed.
At Thursday’s meeting, the two ministers committed to reviewing a deed that would lock in the union’s safety alterations.
Mr Claassens has previously expressed confidence that a written deed could end the dispute and stop any of their planned industrial action.
“We’ve got actions programmed at the moment going right through to the last day of the month. So all of those actions will continue until such time as some senior person in government signs the deed of agreement that I signed on June 30,” he said on Wednesday.
“So if I get a signature on that deed, that will immediately allow me to go and talk to my delegates and say, ‘What do we need to do to postpone any of our industrial actions’?
“Sign the document, give us that document and we’ll move on.”
But Mr Claassens was pessimistic over whether the ministers would follow through with reviewing the deed and said they were willing to extend their industrial action into next month if needed.
“We have heard this before and wait with bated breath to see what it says,” he said in a statement following Thursday’s meeting.
“The government was informed that their failure to agree to our outstanding claims and reinstate the claims it had backtracked on meant that all protected industrial action planned for August is going ahead as planned.
“Plans are also in motion to continue action into September.”
The RTBU have committed to a three-week wave of industrial action throughout August, which began on Sunday last week.
Another strike, similar to Wednesday’s, is scheduled for August 17 and will impact the T8 Airport and South, T3 Bankstown and Southern Highlands lines.
Other industrial action planned for August includes two more strikes and a ban on operating foreign-made trains at the end of the month.