Domestic Violence Leave for Rail Workers Cut

Last week, Employee Relations Minsiter Tudehope walked away from a previous agreement to triple domestic violence leave for Sydney Trains employees. Union leaders have criticised the move as a petty politicisation of domestic violence in the standoff between the NSW government and rail unions.

In May, rail unions, Sydney Trains, NSW Trains and Transport for NSW agreed on a deal to provide 20 days per year of domestic and family violence leave to rail workers. The provision also included the ability to take leave without prior approval in emergency contexts, and offered training for employees on preventing and responding to domestic violence.

Following Tudehope’s gutting of the agreement, Unions NSW wrote to Premier Dominic Perrottet, asking him to intervene. “Matt Kean and Dominic Perrottet bent over backwards to present an inclusive, women friendly image at the recent state budget,” said Karen Willis, Gender Equity Officer for NSW, “Now we know it was all a mirage.”

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union also condemned the move, stating that domestic violence provisions shouldn’t be leveraged for political gain. Willis agreed, claiming it was “hard to avoid the conclusion that Minister Tudehope is engaged in some sort of tacky payback. He really should not be playing games with a provision that was carefully crafted and negotiated to improve the lives of women in difficult circumstances.”

Ongoing Industrial Action

The NSW government has been locked in negotiations with rail workers for months, over union demands for better pay and work conditions, as well as safety concerns about NSW’s intercity fleet.

Rail employees stopped work early this morning in the latest industrial action, following strikes in June and early July. Workers walked off the job for four hours from 12.01am this morning, ignoring a last-ditch letter from the government asking to abandon the action.

Rail workers will also take indefinite action, including not mopping floors or working with contractors.

Tudehope and Transport Minister Natalie Ward penned the letter, claiming this morning’s actions would create “risks to safety which, while being effectively managed by the rail agencies, will impact services and unduly burden … commuters”.

The RTBU ignored the government’s calls, with RTBU state secretary assuring the union wouldn’t “be bullied into accepting an inferior enterprise agreement in order to get safe trains on our network.”

Rail unions want the government to agree to carrying out safety modifications to the state’s new intercity fleet of trains before negotiating a new pay deal. The government wants the two issues to be dealt with simultaneously, which unions are concerned would result in a trade-off that would compromise their wages to pay for the modifications.

This morning’s action coincided with a 24-hour strike by hundreds of NSW road workers and construction crews. Aligning with the demands of many other public service sectors, the Australian Workers’ Union is decrying the government’s wage cap in the face of mounting inflation.

“It is a wage cut, given inflation,” says AWU NSW branch Secretary Tony Callinan, These workers are emergency responders … and worked right through the COVID pandemic.”

Cover photo by Mariya Tarakhnenko on Unsplash.

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