Free travel for NSW commuters in ‘illegal’ decision to switch off Opal card readers

The NSW transport minister has said the latest industrial action set to hit the state’s rail network could put lives at risk, as tensions continue to escalate between the railway union and the government.

The Railway, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) plans to disable Opal card readers from Wednesday next week, meaning commuters will travel for free with no way to switch on or s ‘switch off.

The Opal blackout will be part of a series of new industry actions that will begin on September 21 and will continue “indefinitely”.

Transport Minister David Elliott said the proposed action was a “new low”. He also alleged that it was potentially illegal.

“We have seen a new low in industrial relations in this state,” he vehemently told reporters on Thursday.

“Not half a century has seen a union initiate and foment illegal activities.”

RTBU NSW Secretary Alex Claassens told members they could turn off the readers by flipping the switch or tripping the circuit.

“You can disable the gates in any way as part of this action. For example, pressing the emergency escape button, pressing the internal switch on legacy doors, or tripping the circuit breaker on self-contained Opal ‘poles’,” he said in a statement to members on Tuesday. .

“We need to make sure all the doors are off and stay off. If someone comes to your station to re-light Opal readers, please let us know immediately as this may be an undesirable action.

Mr Elliot said the instructions were ‘very dangerous’ and could put lives at risk.

“These instructions from the unions to tell its members to flip switches, pull emergency lines, pull out and trip electronic equipment…are potentially illegal and very, very dangerous,” a he declared.

“I call on the union to withdraw this instruction.

“I have taken legal advice which suggests it is in fact illegal and of course it will potentially put the lives of commuters and Sydney Railway staff at risk.”

He said he was “horrified” by the proposed “vandalism” and would take legal action if it happened.

“I will go through any court in the country to make sure that anyone who is seen doing this is prosecuted,” Mr Elliot said.

“I say to the union that if your members willfully break the law, I will pursue in every way possible to have these staff members charged, prosecuted and fixed.”

Mr Elliot said the revenue lost as a result of this action “will be in the millions”.

A Transport for NSW spokesman told NCA NewsWire on Wednesday evening that they believe the action was unlawful and that legal advice would be sought.

‘Sydney Trains is aware of information regarding the closure of all Opal reading machines by the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) from 21st September 2022,’ they said.

“Sydney Trains does not consider this ban to be a protected or legal action and is seeking legal advice and will write to RTBU requesting the withdrawal of this action.”

But Mr Claassens said earlier on Wednesday he believed the move was permitted under their range of protected industrial action.

“As far as we are concerned, we are within our rights to do so, it is protected industrial action,” he said.

“If they have a problem with that, they can take us wherever they need to take us to have that conversation.”

The dispute between the RTBU and the state government centers on a new pay deal, which has resulted in multiple strikes, commuter chaos and heated negotiations.

Tensions reached breaking point in late August after 70 per cent of Sydney’s rail fleet did not run on the last day of the month following the union’s refusal to operate foreign-made trains for 24 hours.

This led to a furious prime minister threatening to tear up their company agreement and take the matter to the Fair Work Commission.

But the RTBU later applied to the Fair Work Commission for good faith bargaining orders following Mr Perrottet’s ultimatum.

By doing so, the RTBU hoped to bring the government back to the negotiating table and prevent it from following through on its attempt to terminate the enterprise agreement.

The RTBU is demanding a 3.5% annual wage increase for railway workers, while the government has proposed a 3% increase.

The state government has also pledged to address the union’s safety concerns with a $2.8 billion intercity train fleet, which has been left to gather dust as workers refuse to leave. ‘to exploit.

Next week’s industrial action will not be the first time the railway union has tried to target government pockets.

Station staff left doors open at stations across the state and stopped issuing fines and warnings as part of a wave of industrial action throughout August.

But the Opal card readers remained on and most passengers decided to press anyway despite having no app in place.

Mr. Perrottet said on Wednesday that 90% of travelers were still using.

“It just shows that the people of NSW just want to keep going,” he told reporters.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson thanked the majority of commuters for continuing to type when the doors were left open.

“Between August 13 and September 2, there were approximately 670,000 plays per day on an average weekday in the Greater Sydney area,” they told NCA NewsWire.

“That compares to the daily weekday average of around 770,000 tap-ons in May, when there was no industrial action.

“Transport for NSW thanks the vast majority of Sydney Railways customers who did the right thing by continuing to activate and deactivate their Opal cards during the recent protected industrial action.”

Unions fear the state government will attempt to reactivate Opal card readers once their action begins next week.

“If there is no way to switch on or off you cannot be fined. Please remain vigilant as the Premier of NSW may try various tactics to switch on the machines,” the officials said on Wednesday. NSW unions to commuters.

Other measures taken by the union in September included a ban on wearing lanyards and name badges, a ban on making announcements regarding Opal processes or issues, a ban on station staff to participate in online training or online instructions and a ban on non-safety critical rails. emergency management.

These will also start from September 21 and continue indefinitely.

The RTBU and the state government met on Wednesday at a Fair Work Commission hearing. They will enter formal conciliation on Friday.

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