Commuters are urged to prepare for massive delays as railway workers decree four days of industrial action that will cut train services.
Thousands of commuters will be stranded across New South Wales this week as rail services are cut by up to 75% in a week of chaotic industrial action.
Railway workers have launched protected industrial action in response to continuing safety concerns, including the operation of a South Korean-built intercity fleet that the union has deemed unsafe.
The commuter mayhem marks the start of a week of mayhem across Sydney, with nurses and teachers also preparing to launch industrial action later this week.
The action will begin on Tuesday, with commuters told to expect ‘significant disruption’ as trains will be limited to a maximum speed of 60km/h for the day.
The “go slow” will reduce peak hour services by 50%.
On Wednesday, trade unionists will be banned indefinitely from returning to the rail operations centre.
Train drivers will refuse to travel outside their home depot on Thursday when an indefinite ban on work related to the Sydney Underground is enacted.
On Friday, railway workers will refuse to operate foreign-made trains – which make up three-quarters of the state’s rail service.
Transport for NSW estimates that up to 75% of rail services will have to be reduced on Thursday and Friday, with a limited number of buses available to serve the routes.
Transport for NSW said it would try to limit the impact on customers as NSW prepares for school holidays.
“Protected industrial action is expected to result in delays and increasing cancellation of services throughout the week, with Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink working to assess any impacts and offer alternative travel arrangements to customers where possible” , says a press release.
Commuters are urged to have a backup plan for getting around the state, with regional services also expected to be affected.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union NSW secretary Alex Claassens said railway workers were reluctant to strike but the government had forced their hand.
“All we want is for the government to address the fundamental safety and labor issues that we have been talking about for many months,” he said.
“It’s always been a safety issue for us.”
NSW Transport Minister David Elliott told 2GB’s Ben Fordham he was “disappointed” the union had decided to strike as negotiations were underway.
He said the government made a “fairly generous” offer to the Rail, Tram and Bus Union on Friday that included sweeteners such as extra leave and a one-time payment of more than $3,000 instead of an arrears.
In a statement, Mr Elliott said he had asked for the industrial action to be withdrawn after “engaging in negotiations in good faith”.
The trains were halted in February when talks broke down between the New South Wales government and the Public Services Union. While the workers were adamant that they were not on strike, each side blamed the other for the closure.
The expected delays mark yet another show of discontent among public sector workers in what has been dubbed ‘the year of the strike’.
Nurses and midwives are set to leave work for 24 hours on Tuesday to protest staff shortages and the ‘pure lack of government support’, although the union assured the public that enough staff would remain on duty to s caring for patients.
On Thursday, public school and Catholic school teachers will strike together in a historic joint action.
The chaotic week of public sector strikes comes just days after the New South Wales government announced plans to increase fines for illegal industrial action. Under the proposed changes, unions would be liable for a fine of up to $55,000 for the first day of action and $27,500 for each day thereafter.
“The illegal strikes have had incredibly damaging consequences for students, families and workers across the state,” Finance and Employee Relations Minister Damien Tudehope said.
“We want to put an end to this kind of disruption and disorder and use the established mechanisms of the Industrial Relations Board to resolve disputes without hurting innocent citizens.”
However, NSW Civil Service Association general secretary Stewart Little noted that NSW was one of the only jurisdictions in the world where workers have been fined for taking industrial action.
“Public sector workers have a strong sense of public duty and they do not strike lightly. They will only take industrial action when a government has mismanaged things until the crisis,” he said.
“(The NSW Government has) spent a decade lighting a hundred separate bin fires across the state and now Damien Tudehope feels he can bully frontline workers into keeping quiet about them.”