There are fears further strikes could plunge NSW trains services into chaos once again next month as the union and state government ramp up their conversations in the hope of reaching an agreement.
The T4 Eastern and Illawarra and South Coast lines did not run from 10am to 4pm on Wednesday amid industrial action from the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), resulting in crowded scenes at train stations and hefty delays for commuters.
An hourly service with limited stops ran on the T4, which services Sydney’s east and southern NSW, during that time period, while there were also replacement buses.
RTBU NSW secretary Alex Claassens said the industrial action planned for August was the biggest since their heated long-running dispute with the NSW government started.
But he was not afraid to extend those actions into September if the two parties cannot reach a resolution.
We‘ve made our position quite clear, we’ve drawn a line in the sand … this month is the biggest month for our actions,” he said in a press conference on Wednesday.
“If this doesn‘t bring them out of their corner, I don’t know what will. But if this doesn’t do it for them, we’ll do another month.”
The dispute 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 and address concerns with their enterprise agreement in a written deed.
Mr Claassens was confident 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.
“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.”
On Wednesday, Sydney Trains and the RTBU blamed each other for why services did not run on the T4 line 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.
“We actually sought assurances from the unions late last week as to who would be available to work and who wouldn’t be.
“We weren’t able to get those assurances with a level of competence to publish a timetable in that period from 10am through until 4pm.”
But Mr Claassens said it was the government’s choice to not allow trains to run on the Illawarra line.
“The NSW government and transport management are claiming services aren’t running because of industrial action, but that is complete rubbish,” he said.
“The industrial action being taken by rail workers today has been carefully designed to ensure commuter services can still run and impacts only around 10 per cent of all available train crew.
“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.”
Mr Claassens said he would be having a “warts and all conversation” with Mr Longland on Thursday about what could have been done differently on Wednesday.
He said this talk would particularly be centred on their planned strike action for next week.
“As people would be aware, next Wednesday is the next major stoppage where we‘re essentially going to be shutting down the southern line all the way from Sydney terminal down to Melbourne effectively,” Mr Claassens said.
“We are prepared to sit down with the management team tomorrow and try and work out what we can do to make sure that we still continue to run a service in those other areas of the network.”
Mr Claassens will also be meeting with state government ministers later on Thursday at 5pm.
Other industrial action planned by the RTBU throughout August includes three more strikes in separate areas and a ban on operating foreign-made trains at the end of the month.