Australia’s busiest rail network and a trade union have clashed over who is responsible for the train disruption following union actions this week.
The union, which launched industrial action on Wednesday and Friday, said the strike would not affect passengers and that if services are disrupted, it is because the government is playing games.
The NSW Secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Association, Alex Claassens, said it was disappointing that the NSW government has chosen to “deliberately block commuting in recent days and have tried to blame union action to give”.
But the acting state transportation minister hit back, dismissing the union’s “desperate” and “misleading” claims.
“The union even admitted today (Saturday) that if the government had not taken them to the Fair Work Commission, there would have been even more disruption to the network,” said Natalie Ward.
“You would think that in a week when the state was gripped by flooding and severe weather, they would stop playing politics and finally put the people first.”
Her comments came after Mr Claassens said there was “no reason” why train services would not run smoothly on Friday.
“No action is being taken by railway workers who would have a notable impact on services, but it appears the NSW government has decided to deliberately withhold services to make a public point,” he said.
“We call on the NSW Government to be honest about the reasons for any delays in service today. It is completely wrong to blame the action of rail workers.”
“It appears the NSW government has learned nothing from the shameful shutdown of the track in February. They are at it again, deliberately cutting shifts and trying to blame the workers for a political point.”
The government has summoned the union and says the disruption to the rail network on Saturday was caused by the unions’ decision to strike.
The Fair Work Commission on Tuesday rejected an urgent offer from the NSW government to end the ongoing strikes that have hit the network in recent weeks.
The ruling applies only to an interim order that would have seen an emergency shutdown for Wednesday’s action. The committee also heard arguments on Thursday and Friday and was allowed to make a finding on Saturday.
Transport for NSW said the trains were at about 50 percent capacity as of Friday afternoon, partly as a result of bad weather and partly due to union action.
Central to the current dispute is the RBTU’s refusal for its members to operate a new fleet of trains built abroad due to safety concerns.
It says that the guards on the train cannot prevent accidents if the trains are not modified so new CCTV screens, communication buttons and door controls are added.
“Throughout this entire dispute, we have always been as fair and reasonable as possible while still making it very clear to NSW management and government that we are serious about fighting for the safe train commuters and workers they deserve.” said Mrs Claassens.
“It’s time the NSW government stopped playing political games and just listen to the rail safety experts, use common sense and take action to ensure commuters get the safe trains they deserve.”
The government recently agreed to spend $264 million on security improvements to the Korean-built New Intercity Fleet after talks with the union.
NSW Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet has promised this would happen, but the union wants a written agreement to finalize the changes before the union action is halted.