Free rides as NSW train dispute continues

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The longstanding dispute between railway unions and the NSW government has returned to the workplace arbiter as a union signals union action allowing commuters to travel for free.

The rail, tram and bus union says Opal readers and gates will be deactivated from next Wednesday.

RTBU NSW secretary Alex Claassens said the strategy would cause financial pain for the government, while commuters “who have unfortunately suffered much from the government’s continued stubbornness on this issue”.

“It is good news for commuters and will hopefully force the government to reconsider its current strategy of slowing down negotiations and choosing public fights,” Mr Claassens said on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet said the union shut down the machines because 90 percent of customers were still tapping when the gates were left open last month.

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“That shows that the people at NSW just want to get started. That’s what I expect from the union,” he says.

Not all stations have gates, but stand-alone Opal posts on suburban platforms will also be deactivated.

The union said commuters cannot be penalized if there is no way to wiretap, and the deactivation will come with a ban on fines.

Also, from September 21, there will be a ban on the wearing of lanyards or name badges, station announcements on Opal issues and online training.

The dispute returned to the Fair Work Commission on Wednesday, after a hearing on Friday and an attempted reconciliation on Monday and Tuesday.

Mr Perrottet threatened to terminate the existing, expired company agreement in late August after a month of targeted industrial action over several days caused widespread disruption.

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He stated that negotiations on a new agreement were over and that the government had made a final offer, but the unions rejected it and asked the committee to continue negotiations.

Ingmar Taylor SC argued on behalf of all but one unions that the government had breached the negotiations in good faith by ending negotiations and failing to clearly identify the decision-makers.

NSW TrainLink transformation director Jasmin Streimer, the chief negotiator for the agency in negotiations since May 2021, told the hearing that its chief operating officer Dale Merrick was the decision maker.

Mr Taylor asked why the unions were instead told the negotiations were over in a letter signed by chief executive Peter Allaway.

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“It’s not a purely lateral hierarchy,” Ms Streimer said.

She accepted the offer submitted to the union because it was “definitive” incomplete, did not oblige the government to make the promised payments, and the railway entities still had not provided a final version.

She agreed that it made it clear that NSW’s railway entities were unwilling to negotiate further.

Ms Streimer was advised that some union requests supported by the train bureaus would not be approved because they were outside the negotiating parameters.

The union is aiming for a 3.5 per cent annual wage increase – above the three per cent NSW government cap it says does not apply to them – with an additional living allowance based on a Queensland government model.

The hearing continues.

– MONKEY