Politicians from both sides of parliament are ‘sitting in their ivory towers’ while using safety risks as a ‘threat’ against the unions, the Rail, Tram & Bus Union has said. 

Alex Claassens, the NSW branch secretary of the RBTU, claimed an agreement sent to the union from the state government last night, that was meant to end the months-long trains and bus dispute, was incomplete and appeared to be a notated draft.

The state government and the transport union have been at loggerheads over the safety of new trains, while also negotiating wage rises. This week Premier Dominic Perrottet threatened to tear up the enterprise bargaining agreement unless workers accepted the terms by 5pm tomorrow.

Referring to the wage agreement Claassens said “we know this document is nowhere near ready for our members to vote on”, adding: “I think it is a draft. How can it be a real document, when we only got it at 9.30 last night?

“In my heart, I know this document’s not right. I know it’s not ready and I know they can’t put it out. 

“This all about politicians sitting in their ivory towers who never use our railway system, saying, we don’t care about our wives and children and getting hurt on the railway… and we’re going to make this all about us.

“So I’m here to say to them, you people need to take a rain check. You’ve got families, you’ve got friends, that use our railway systems, and as servants of the people, you’ve got the obligation to make sure that we’ve got a safe railway system.”

Claassens said the union was informed this morning by the CEO of Sydney Trains and NSW trains that two days of prior negotiations were being ‘terminated’ upon government instruction.  

“I just want to drive a safe train,” train driver of 26 years Paul Foster told Central News.  

“We have absolute support from the public. They understand what we’re standing for is for safety, that we’re giving up – all us workers are giving up – our Christmases, our New Years, our birthdays, our children’s birthdays to come to work. We don’t sit there and have our cruisey Monday to Friday jobs.”

As part of the enterprise agreement, the union received a copy of the deed which they had negotiated on train safety. Claassens, however, claims ‘the deed’ they received “doesn’t look anything like the one [they’d] agreed to. It was butchered”.  

Alex Claassens

RTBU NSW branch secretary Alex Claassens talks to Fatimah Ayoubi outside building 10 at UTS. Photo: Central News.

He claimed some politicians, Perottet in particular, were not taking the demands of the unions seriously. Union members have refused to work on the Korean-built New Intercity Fleet (NIF) over safety concerns and have carried out a series of industrial actions, that have included leaving barriers open.

“We’ve got three different widths of trains, we’ve got a very old railway system, you’re still running freight trains through our passenger network, you need to have guards on our trains to keep people safe,” he said.

“And they need to listen to the workers that are out there telling them, these trains are not safe.

“At the end of the day, we’re the ones that are facing that stuff. We’re the ones looking people in the eye and saying, ‘oh look, we’re really sorry someone’s been hurt today’. We’re not gonna cop that.”

Media reporting of the dispute had mostly been fair, Claassens said.

“I think a lot of that information does get out [but] there’s the shock jocks are always out there to try and make a headline,” he added. “They’re out there perpetuating the government myths sometimes, so they’re a bit difficult, but to a large degree the TV cameras and, certainly, the newspapers, in recent history at least, have been reporting this factually.”

Claassens insisted industrial action will likely resume in the coming weeks but “everybody [first] needs to take a chill pill… regroup, and have a think about where we’re at”.

“My suggestion for all of us at this point is that we all go away and chill over the weekend,” he added. 

No industrial action is currently planned by the union which must give a 10-day notification period.

Main picture of Alex Claassens by Fatimah Ayoubi.