Recap: A Week of Strikes in Sydney

Last week saw several NSW unions take industrial action to protest government inaction over long-standing public service issues. Rail workers, nurses and midwives, and teachers, all staged protests, repeating calls for better wages and working conditions.

Rail workers took the most widespread action, with four days of industrial measures once again causing major disruption to commuters, in an attempt to push the government to agree to long-standing demands.

Last Tuesday, train drivers limited their speed to 60km/h and under in a ‘go-slow’ protest. On Friday, drivers refused to operate foreign-built trains, reducing services to 30% of their usual capacity. The Rail, Tram and Bus Union of NSW has raised concerns with the government multiple times over the safety of a new fleet of Korean-built trains.

Transport Minister David Elliot said he would resign if he didn’t deliver on promises to the union, but has not supported addressing safety concerns. “At a time when the NSW economy is facing headwinds … to unnecessarily spend money on modifying or making all the modifications that the union’s asked for I think would be irresponsible,” he remarked.

The Perottet government failed to reach a compromise with the union on Friday. Although the union planned further industrial action this week in response, severe flooding in parts of the state has put a pause on these plans.

Foreign-built trains will once again be sidelined on Wednesday and Friday this week. It’s also likely cleaners will only work at their home depot, and drivers won’t use the network to travel between stations as part of the ongoing action.

Nurses and Midwives walked off the job on Tuesday to protest similar government inaction on workplace standards. The IRC ruled the walk-off to be a violation, but approved the mass meeting held at Town Hall.

It was the third time nurses and midwives went on strike this year.”We know that nurses and midwives can’t stay if their workloads are not safe,” said NSW NMA spokesperson Michael Whaites, “so until this parliament enacts nurse-to-patient ratios on a shift-by-shift basis, we will not see the fundamental reform that is needed in our public hospital system.” A union spokesperson has told the ABC further action is likely.

The majority of NSW NMA members have reportedly voted to raise the desired wage to 7%, significantly higher than the previous call of 4.75%. It’s almost double the 3% increase offered in the recent NSW budget.

Public service employees agreed to wait until the budget, after government promises of a compromise over the previous wage cap of 2.5%. But they were disappointed by the minimal increase, especially considering growing inflation, which the Royal National Bank has said will likely reach 7 per cent this year.

Insufficient pay increases were also a central issue for teachers, who went on strike on Thursday. The NSW Teachers Federation described 3% pay offer as “an insult” that falls below inflation. It’s their second strike this year, and the first time public and Catholic school teachers have taken action together.

The Teachers Federation has said the NSW government won’t be able to fix the state’s crippling teacher shortage until it provides more attractive salaries.

Finally, thousands of Australians rallied across the country to show support for abortion rights and solidarity with US women following the overturning of Roe v Wade. Over 3000 people came to the Melbourne protest, and thousands braved the downpour at Sydney’s Saturday rally.

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