||Issue No. 246||12 November 2004|
How It Comes To This
Interview: The Reich Stuff
Economics: Crime and Punishment
Environment: Beyond The Wedge
International: The End Of The Lucky Country
Safety: Tests Fail Tests
Politics: Labo(u)r Day
Human Rights: Arabian Lights
History: Labour's Titan
Review: Foxy Fiasco
Poetry: Then I Saw The Light
The Locker Room
How It Comes To This
Over the past 12 months, the rail workforce has seen a fundamental shift as their organisation has been transformed from a public service into a State Owned Corporation, run with the express purpose of delivering a financial dividend to the government.
This major shift occurred with little public debate, no staff consultation, just an edict from on high.
Any regular reader of Workers On line could not help but conclude that RailCorp management has been on an express mission: to end the union culture in RailCorp and let 'the managers manage' - this is a sort of Year Zero approach to a railway system that has run on the goodwill of the workforce for decades.
Under the cloak of the Waterfall Inquiry, Rail Corp management has been on a mission to show the workforce who is the boss.
In the past 12 months, they've been poked and prodded, forced to undergo urine samples, heart tests, and even discredited mind games under the name of psychometric testing.
Drivers have been scapegoated, guards and station staff abused and maintenance workers blamed for the effects of poor management.
After holding the rail system together for decades, they have been told they are now the problem.
At the same time, the workforce has borne the brunt of public anger as the new Minister has unilaterally cut rail services, scrapped new railway lines, ditched timetables and stopped production of a new fleet of trains.
A new low occurred last week when RailCorp management got caught out for failing to employ enough electricians. A sub-station blew up, there was no one to fix it and drivers sat at base waiting for a train to drive.
Instead of copping the wrap, RailCorp CEO Vince Graham shifted the blame to the workers - cooking the sick books to conjure up the furphy of an orchestrated industrial campaign; a lie that seemed designed to derail negotiations for a new EBA and undermine the rail union leadership.
It got worse this week when the government released false statistics to class workers as greedy - the front pages had them being paid more than police and nurses, false numbers comparing overtime rate s to base rates of pay.
It also began a whispering campaign about drivers refusing to work more than four and a half hours in the cab in; creative accounting that ignores the time spent conducting safety checks, in shunting yards and turning trains around; as well as the fact that drivers are bound to the timetable management draws up.
It was as if RailCorp were following the script from the 'Waterfront' - make them look lazy, make them look greedy, and then roll out the rorts.
This rail dispute is not just about pay and conditions - it is about the way an employer has treated its 15,000 workers over a sustained period time.
The current restructure is designed to divide workers - offering some jobs in the newly formed RailCorp, leaving others to wither without meaningful employment in the old SRA.
The negotiations are expressly manoeuvred by RailCorp to split the workforce, 'segmenting different sections' and giving management a blank cheque for further reform over the next three years,
It is almost like the whole process has been destined to end in industrial confrontation. Indeed, senior managers have been quite open in admitting their objective is to goad the workers into strike action so as to allow them to shift the blame for the railways' failings onto the workforce.
Yes, strikes disrupt the public, they cost the strikers money and they give the Tories a free kick.
But sometimes the withholding of labour is the only weapon left; the only piece of dignity a worker has. Let's hope a strike can be avoided, but if it is not, let us all, as a movement, support the rail workers in their battle for a little bit of respect.
After all, that's why unions were created, it's why unions remain relevant today and, as a last resort, why striking is still a valid from of protest.
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