As a follow on from Wickham's post, I'll give you the picture from an inland employees perspective (that's Tom Price based or mines based - Yandicoogina, Paraburdoo, Hope Downs and West Angelas).
All inland employees are Fly in Fly out. Most of the Tom Price drivers are on 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. Thats 14 shifts at 12 hours each (168 hours a month), worked on 7 day shifts, shift change and 7 night shifts (and dont be fooled by day/night shift, it is a variable start roster meaning that when you fly in this swing, you will be starting at 2am for 7 shifts then 2 pm for 7 shifts. This then goes to 3am, then 4am and so on).
All 2/2 workers fly in on their day off and the east coast guys on shifts that finish after 8am generally don't get home until their first day off (so in reality they get 12 or 13 days off and not the 14 that 2/2 supposedly gives you).
The mines drivers and some of the Tom Price drivers are on 2 weeks on and 1 week off (252 hours per month), with the start times being a bit more rigid between 4 am to 8am. These guys generally fly in on the day of work.
No permanent rooms for the Tom Price drivers, change every swing (and often change mid swing as well).
As for the money, I can tell you now that as a 2/2 employee, I am far from being on $160k p.a. Try more like around $120k plus super of around $10k, so total package of around $130k p.a. (base of $69k, rest made of allowances).
Based on around $5-7k increases on performance review every year, it will take me 5 to 7 years of service to make that money. Now there might be some of the older hands that are on $160k plus, but as you can see, it is not a given from the first day.
So, in response to some of your claims cray-z:
Discipline-the last bloke that had a balls up here that was attributed directly back to him was summarily dismissed. As stated previously, the coast drivers are starting to see this happen as well.
Laziness- I don't think so as I know of a few rail related employees here who are not drivers who seem to take delight in parking up in the middle of no where when not tasked with a job and induldging in some fatigue management. The drivers inland have seen their number of shifts worked over 12 hours increase markedly lately (around 12 days with multiple blown shifts last month alone) due to the shortage of drivers that we have up here.
As for the "extra" $40k, you are employed initially as a trainee driver who is learning the road and all of the systems up here, then once you are signed off as competent, you receive the additional rail allowance. Remember, you are at the front of 30000 odd tonnes. If you think it is that easy to come and drive them, then you obviously have no idea about what driving entails. It's not just A to B. You need to know what your train is doing, adapt to different operating conditions, understand all of the safeworking and apply that whilst you are on the move, understand the locomotive systems and be able to work through the faults that we get here. As one of my old driving mates who has worked through all three systems (BHP, RIO and FMG) said to me, if you can drive at RIO, you can drive anywhere (it was his opinion that the track here was the hardest to learn and drive on with its undulating terrain in places and the grades).
As for the ATP, it is a system that is in place to help prevent things like SPADS (and only works where it can supervise your actions) and if you don't come from a system where you actually had to stop the train prior to the signal without assistance, it can lead to some pretty poor driving practices. The experienced ex freight guys drive by feel whereas the railcar drivers drive by the numbers to start with (no disrespect meant to these guys, it's just the way it is) until they get more experience.
I've been in the industry for more than a few years now, and the big three are seen as the ultimate step up if you want to work a lifestyle roster and get ahead in life. If the guys up the road are paying substantially more money, and have better terms and conditions, then in order to stem the flow, RIO will have to match the rest of the big players (or at least come close to it). Add to the mix the Hancock/Adani coal project and Waratah Coal in QLD coming onstream in the next couple of years, RIO could be facing an exodus that it may not be able to cover.
Training can't be done by people who have only just been signed off. The training program is struggling to keep up now. Lose three or four driver trainers with experience here, and 6-12 month sign offs turn into 12-18 months and in that time, trainees will pull the pin because the money is rubbish.