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ARTC, unions do battle on NSW coal network

The Hunter Valley network is responsible for the coal exported from Newcastle. Photo: HVCCC

The Australian Rail Track Corporation has accused the Rail Tram and Bus Union of breaking a ceasefire, with disruptions impacting the corporation’s NSW network despite the union agreeing to put industrial action on hold.

The ARTC, which manages 8500 kilometres of track across five states, including the NSW interstate and freight networks, is negotiating with a clutch of unions – let by the RTBU – towards a new work agreement to cover its NSW staff.

16 forms of industrial action were announced by the unions last week, with work stoppages taking place since Wednesday, August 3.

The sides agreed to meet over the weekend, with the unions saying on Sunday, August 7, that a two-hour stoppage scheduled for Monday, August 8, would be put on hold “in an act of good faith”.

According to the ARTC, however, a “lack of clarity” from the unions to the workforce meant services were still impacted, and “a number of indefinite industrial actions continue”.

ARTC boss John Fullerton was not happy.

“While ARTC and NSW RTBU Branch Secretary Alex Claassens agreed to meet to discuss the current industrial action, this was on the condition that industrial action would be called off,” he said on Monday.

“ARTC agreed to meet with union officials [on August 9] to discuss the dispute – not to re-open negotiations, but this was always on the condition that all industrial action would be called off.

“Unfortunately various forms of indefinite industrial action are continuing.

“ARTC provided the combined unions a final opportunity to call off all industrial action this morning. They have refused to do so which means the conditions of the meeting have not been met.”

Fullerton said there was “no way” the sides could meet given the circumstances.

“The action continues to delay NSW rail passengers, businesses and the community,” he said.

As a result, the ARTC will proceed to a vote among its employees on Thursday, August 11, with the current offer of a 2% per year pay rise over three years, and no loss of conditions.

Fullerton says the offer is “fair and reasonable”.

But Claassens says the ARTC is not putting forward “any reasonable offer”.

“We cannot accept an agreement that would send the pay and conditions of our members backwards and leave them exposed in the case of privatisation,” he said on Monday.

Claassens accused the ARTC of reneging on the commitment to meet, saying the unions had withdrawn the workplace stoppages.

“We were shocked and dismayed when the ARTC contacted us after 4pm Monday afternoon, after we had cancelled that day’s stoppages, to tell us the meeting had been called off after telling their own staff via internal email that our meeting would go ahead,” the union boss said.

“We are deeply disappointed that the ARTC has behaved in such an underhanded and distrustful manner.

“It begs the question, who is really running the ARTC?”

The fiery comments came after a weekend full of work stoppages.

Fullerton roasted the union action over the weekend, saying it “has cost the NSW economy millions [and] set rail back years”.

“We have spent the last decade building and modernising our rail network, but the unions seem determined to take us backwards,” he said on Sunday.

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