Commuter chaos in NSW as ‘year of the strike’ continues

Thousands of commuters will be stranded across NSW this week as train services have been cut by up to 75 percent during a week of chaotic industrial action.

Commuter chaos in NSW as 'year of the strike' continues

Rail workers have launched protected industrial action in response to ongoing security concerns, including the operation of an intercity fleet built in South Korea that the union deems unsafe.

The chaos in the commute marks the start of a week of turmoil in Sydney, with nurses and teachers preparing to launch industrial action later this week.

The action kicks off Tuesday, urging commuters to expect “significant disruption” as trains that day will be limited to a speed limit of 60 km/h.

The “go slow” will reduce peak hours by 50 percent.

Camera IconRail employees are going on strike this week. NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone Credit: News Corp Australia

On Wednesday, union members will be indefinitely banned from returning to the railway operations center.

Train drivers will refuse to travel outside their home depot on Thursday when an unrestricted work ban is issued about Sydney Metro.

On Friday, railway workers will refuse to operate trains made abroad, which make up three-quarters of state train services.

Transport for NSW estimates that up to 75 percent of train services will have to be canceled on Thursday and Friday, with a limited number of buses available to serve the routes.

Transport for NSW said it would mitigate the impact on customers as NSW prepares for the school holidays.

“The protected union action is expected to cause delays and the increasing cancellation of services over the week, with Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink working to assess the full impact and provide alternative travel arrangements for customers where possible,” said a statement.

Camera IconCommuters will be in chaos with four days of industrial action. NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone Credit: News Corp Australia

Commuters are urged to have a backup plan for travel across the state, which is also expected to affect regional services.

Rail, tram, and bus union NSW secretary Alex Claassens said railway workers were reluctant to strike, but the government had forced them.

“All we want is for the government to resolve the fundamental security and personnel issues that we have been talking about for months,” he said.

“It was always about safety for us.”

NSW Transport Secretary David Elliott told 2 GB’s Ben Fordham that he was “disappointed” that the union had decided to strike while negotiations were underway.

He said the government on Friday made a “quite generous” offer to the Rail, Tram, and Bus Union with sweeteners such as additional leave benefits and a one-time payment of more than $3,000 instead of delinquency.

In a statement, Mr. Elliott said he had requested the withdrawal of the union action after “negotiating in good faith”.

Camera icon The industrial action is expected to affect the entire state. NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone Credit: News Corp Australia

Trains were shut down in February when talks between the NSW government and the Public Service Union broke. While the workers were adamant that they would not strike, each side blamed the other for the shutdown.

The expected delays mark another sign of dissatisfaction among public sector workers during what has been dubbed “the year of the strike”.

Nurses and midwives are expected to quit their jobs 24 hours a day on Tuesday to protest staff shortages and a “pure lack of government support”. However, the union has assured the public that enough staff will remain on duty to care for patients.

On Thursday, public and Catholic school teachers will join forces in a historic joint action.

The chaotic week of public sector strikes comes just days after the NSW government announced it plans to increase fines for illegal industrial action. Under the proposed changes, unions would be fined up to $55,000 for the first day of action and $27,500 for each subsequent day.

“Illegal strikes have had incredibly damaging effects on students, families, and workers across the state,” said Secretary of the Treasury and Employee Relations Damien Tudehope.

Camera IconRail employees are concerned about the safety of the new intercity fleet. NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone Credit: News Corp Australia

“We want to end this disruption and disorder and use the Industrial Relations Commission’s established mechanisms to resolve disputes without harming innocent civilians.”

However, the general secretary of the Public Service Association of NSW, Stewart Little, noted that NSW was one of the few jurisdictions where workers were fined for union action.

“Public sector workers have a deep sense of duty and do not strike lightly. They will only take union action if a government has managed things so badly that a crisis is created,” he said.

“(The NSW government has) spent ten years lighting a hundred separate fires across the state, and now Damien Tudehope thinks he can intimidate frontline workers into keeping quiet about it.”

Lori J. Kile
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