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A damaging war is brewing between Metro and the union that represents its train drivers, after the company began last week to teach its maintenance staff to drive out-of-service trains short distances at low speed inside rail yards.
The clash threatens to exacerbate Metro's chronic train driver shortage and and make it more difficult for Labor to keep its promise to run all-night trains on weekends from next year.
Metro insists that if it is to fulfil planned future timetable boosts, maintenance staff must be taught to move trains around rail yards and sidings - a task that has for several years been the exclusive responsibility of fully qualified train drivers.
The company started running a four-week course last week to qualify maintenance staff to move trains inside rail yards, telling train drivers in an internal letter that the course was "a critical factor in the success of future timetabling initiatives and the operational demands of increased patronage".
But the union has labelled the course a "Trojan horse" aimed at bringing in new drivers on lower pay and worse conditions. It wrote to all Metro train drivers last week, warning them that their livelihoods were at stake over the issue.
The letter, by Rail, Tram and Bus Union locomotive divisional secretary Marc Marotta, dubbed the four-week course a "scam" that placed all train drivers' jobs at risk.
"Our fight will be a long fight, 12 months to two years," Mr Marotta wrote. "It would be prudent not to over extend yourself financially. People need to understand that this is an attack on your jobs, skills, your roster conditions and ultimately your pay and your future."
Metro chief executive Andrew Lezala has also written to train drivers in recent days to try to defuse any staff fears, promising that no driver would lose his or her job over the issue.
"The ultimate aim of this program is to ensure that our drivers are able to be rostered to deliver our mainline passenger service and will help us to build up the resource to support the introduction of additional services in future timetable changes and the government's 24-hour weekend running policy," Mr Lezala wrote.
The fight threatens to test the Andrews government, which has solid links with the Rail, Tram and Bus Union but is determined to meet its promise on 24-hour public transport.
Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan would not be drawn on the stand-off, stating that maintenance and driver training requirements were "a matter for the operator".
"However, our expectation, and the expectation of the Victorian community, is a safe and fully functional rail network with properly trained staff," Ms Allan said.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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