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YARRA Trams ticket inspectors could soon stop issuing fines, refuse to carry out plain-clothes duties, and provide passengers with ''free travel days'', as part of an industrial campaign for better pay and conditions.
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union has asked its members, which include drivers and ticket inspectors, to vote on strike action against Yarra Trams, run by a joint venture of French transport giant Keolis and Australian engineers Downer EDI.
Yarra Trams employees' three-year employment contract expired at the end of June, and the union is now negotiating with management for a new agreement.
The operator has put forward an option for some driving staff to work 10-hour shifts for four days a week - something the union argues is not safe because of fatigue. Yarra Trams management says it is safe, and will guarantee those who take up the offer three days off per week.
The operator also wants to hire new drivers on a lower hourly rate than current ones. Existing staff have also rejected the company's pay increase offer.
The union has gone to Fair Work Australia to vote on whether to take strike action - which could also include four-hour strikes, which would throw the tram network into disarray.
In all, there are 10 proposed actions that, if voted for by a majority of Yarra Trams staff, would hamper the operation of the city's trams.
Staff must vote on the ballot by August 14, meaning no action will be taken until near the end of the month.
The union's tram and bus division state secretary, Phil Altieri, said Yarra Trams was making dangerous demands on its drivers, because longer shifts would increase fatigue and the risk of accidents. ''This is not about the workers being militant and asking for ridiculous wage increases,'' he said.
''Melbourne is the most difficult tram network in the world to drive on. There are 490 kilometres of double track and 80 per cent of that is mixed with traffic.''
He said the union would not accept working longer hours, nor having new drivers paid $5 an hour less than current ones. Yarra Trams ''say the only way we can get reasonable wage increases is to sell our souls'' he said.
The union is pushing for an increase of 13 per cent over the next three years, and it is believed Yarra Trams is offering staff a wage increase of about 11 per cent, dependent on efficiency gains.
A spokesman for Yarra Trams said it did not wish to argue out the dispute via the media, but would continue its good-faith bargaining with the union.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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