Transport strike could bite Daniel Andrews

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Photo: Paul Jeffers Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Train chaos looms in MelbourneStrike signals a wider battlefront ahead

In the most basic sense, the looming industrial chaos on Melbourne’s rail network has little to do with Daniel Andrews and his fledgling government. In another sense it has everything to do with it.

Metro is a privately owned and operated joint venture between Hong Kong based MTR, John Holland, and UGL Rail.

Any wage negotiations between Metro and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union are supposed to be a private matter, conducted at arm’s length from government.

It’s bad luck for Andrews that the last three-year agreement expired on June 30, and that negotiations for a new agreement have now descended into acrimony.

Why? Because chaos on the network will ultimately reflect poorly on the government. It always does. On the day of the November 2010 election, the overburdened Frankston Line was shut down for repairs. Labor lost a host of seats down the neglected line, ultimately costing it the election.

A four-hour shutdown and a day of free travel may not seem like much of an impost at this stage but, if the dispute is allowed to fester, the political ramifications could be significant.

Melbourne’s transport system has not been closed by strike action since 1997, when the network was plunged into chaos just in time for the Formula One Grand Prix.

Already, Metro is warning it could be forced to shut down some or all of the network if the union follows through on some of its numerous industrial threats, claiming there could safety and operational risks.

If this were to happen, hindering travel between work and home, the ruckus over sacked manufacturing minister Adem Somyurek look like a political picnic.

Yet Andrews can do little. As Metro’s only client, the state government can try exert some pressure to resolve the stoush as quickly as possible. Andrews might also use his factional links to influence the left-leaning Rail, Tram and Bus Union. But at what cost?

Already unions are preparing to use a generous pay deal given to paramedics as an industrial template.

The Health Workers Union, representing 55,000 Victorian public hospital workers, for example, wants a 20 per cent rise over four years. The police union is due to begin negotiating its wage agreement this year. Nurses will follow,  with negotiations for Victorian public servants due to be begin in 2016.

There is still time resolve the dispute, with the union required to wait for five days after any application for industrial action. That means any action probably won’t happen until the second part of next week.

Right now there is little that Daniel Andrews can do but hope the matter resolves itself between now and then without too much disruption to the rail network.

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