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The rail unions' original threat to strike during World Youth Day celebrations, the biggest event on Sydney's calendar this year, was deliberately provocative. I am pleased the unions conceded they got it wrong and we were able to come to a sensible outcome that will not disrupt the people of Sydney.
A stoppage on potentially the busiest day in the history of the NSW transport network would have had a devastating impact on commuters just going about their business and the thousands of families, children and visitors expected to take part in the event. Sydneysiders made it clear that they would not accept this provocative action.
The meeting on Tuesday between RailCorp, Unions NSW and rail unions successfully reopened negotiations between the parties.
Some people want to make this about more than it is, and that is a wage issue. The Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, is out there claiming all sorts of winners and losers. His lack of understanding on this issue in particular just shows that the Opposition is incapable of anything but mediocre commentary.
That meeting was not a competition to be won or lost by the parties involved. It was about re-establishing the negotiation process to secure a fair and reasonable outcome for RailCorp employees.
Sydney commuters were the real winners from that meeting. They can be assured they will be able to go about their business of enjoying the week-long celebrations without unnecessary disruption.
We made it clear to the unions from the start that we would not continue negotiations unless the threat of industrial action during the World Youth Day week was withdrawn. I commend all parties for coming to the table and reaching agreement on a number of principles. Those principles include a commitment to reform and addressing staffing issues.
It is true that RailCorp has withdrawn its proposal of 417 jobs cuts. But this is only on agreement that the parties commit to a wage offer of 2.5 per cent, and that any increases above that are subject to productivity improvements.
The Iemma Government has never wavered from its wages policy. The enterprise bargaining agreement is still under negotiation and if the unions want more than 2.5 per cent they will have to make some concessions. They understand this. It is no different to the position taken during negotiations with nurses, State Water, NSW Maritime, or STA bus drivers. Adherence to the wages policy is critical to the Government's fiscal strategy since employees account for nearly half of its total expenses. And 2.5 per cent is in keeping with the Reserve Bank's inflation target of 2 to 3 per cent a year.
Significant reform is under way at RailCorp. Both RailCorp and the unions recognised, when returning to the negotiating table, that an EBA would need to reflect this. With that, there needs to be a commitment from both sides to improve communication in the way disputes are settled. The parties accepted there had to be continued cultural change.
This is a big step forward, because we know that the daily experience of commuters in Sydney is not just about on-time running statistics. We know that other factors like whether the train is clean and the clarity of announcements made on the train can have a significant impact on the journey of customers.
I have always said that the Government will do everything in its power to negotiate a fair deal for RailCorp employees while acting within the Government's wages policy. It is these workers who ensure that Sydneysiders have a safe and reliable rail service.
We have been planning for World Youth Day for more than two years. Our bus and rail systems will be integral in meeting the increased demand expected on our public transport network during the festivities. As we have outlined before this event, there are extensive plans in place to accommodate this, including 16,500 extra bus services and 4000 extra train services.
With only a few days to go until the eyes of the world are on Sydney, it is time to put the focus back on what we do best, and that is the business of being a world-class event city.
John Watkins is the NSW Deputy Premier, Minister for Transport and Minister for Finance.
Sydney Morning Herald
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