Sydney rail union dispute could go into 2023 under ‘worst-case scenario’, NSW transport minister says

David Elliott hopes a deal is brokered next week, but warns of up to six months of further train delays if it isn’t

The New South Wales transport minister, David Elliott, has warned that industrial action that has crippled Sydney’s rail network could continue for another six months under a “worst-case scenario”.

Appearing before a budget estimates hearing on Friday, Elliott also conceded there was “no way in the world” the government would meet a commitment made by his predecessor, Andrew Constance, to replace the state’s entire bus fleet with electric vehicles by 2030.

In 2020, Constance set an “aspirational target” of replacing Sydney’s fleet of 8,000 buses with electric vehicles by 2030. About 100 such vehicles have been delivered, with another 200 due next year.

On Friday transport department officials described the commitment as a “challenge” set down by the former minister, which was unlikely to be met.

A business case for the full electrification of the bus fleet is yet to be completed, and is not due until November.

“There’s no way in the world we’re going to meet that timetable, so I don’t know why he said it,” Elliott told the hearing in response to questions from Labor’s John Graham.

“I’m not committing to the timeframe my predecessor offered up because [from] where I stand right now that might not be realistic.

“Am I going to defend a song and dance, as you say, I doubt it.”

Amid months of industrial strife which has seen Sydney’s rail network beset by delays and cancelled services, Elliott also struck a hopeful tone on Friday.

He said he was due to meet with the head of the NSW Rail, Tram and Bus Union, Alex Claassens, next Wednesday and hoped a resolution could be reached.

Elliott said a “best-case scenario” would see the dispute wrapped up within days, but that depended on the union agreeing to bargain “in good faith”.

“We will be having some further intense negotiations related to [the enterprise agreement] next week and I’m hoping Alex Claassens and I can sit down and thrash out any outstanding matters,” he told the hearing.

Elliott has publicly clashed with colleagues during the union negotiations, including the treasurer, Matt Kean, and industrial relations minister, Damien Tudehope, who in May said the government would not bow to the union’s demands to make changes to the new inner-city fleet of trains. Rail workers have refused to operate those trains due to safety concerns.

“It’s very hard for me to look [the unions] in the eye and expect them to believe me after I had the rug pulled out from under my feet last time, but that’s what you get when you send a boy in to do a man’s job,” Elliott told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this month.

The government this week handed over a deed committing to changes for which the union has demanded.

The union has so far refused to cancel industrial action, saying it would consider the deed before making any commitments.

While Elliott has baulked at tearing up the industrial agreement, he said he would consider “radical options” if negotiations fail next week.

“The worst-case scenario in my mind? Six months,” he said.

Elliott was conciliatory about the dispute, saying “both sides” were to blame for the protracted negotiations.

“We’ve gone a long way from that [criticism] in a very short time. The government has to concede things haven’t gone well and haven’t gone to plan and haven’t gone in a manner you would like industrial engagement to go,” he said.

But he insisted the union had also been guilty of moving the goalposts during the negotiations.

“The government is not faultless,” he told the inquiry.

“But I’m even more frustrated [that] it appears to me that regularly the goals get moved, the try line gets put back, new claims get put on the table and of course excuses are abundant.”


Michael McGowan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
NSW rail dispute: legal threats over union plan to turn off Opal card readers at train stations
State transport department seeking legal advice over plans by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union to switch off electronic gates

Michael McGowan

14, Sep, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
Sydney braces for train and bus industrial action on Wednesday today as unions meet with NSW transport minister
Combined rail unions say industrial action would be halted until end of September if government agrees to pay rise

Michael McGowan

30, Aug, 2022 @3:25 PM

Article image
‘This ends today’: NSW premier says as he threatens to tear up industrial agreement over Sydney rail strikes
Dominic Perrottet says he will meet the rail union in court if workers reject government’s final offer

Michael McGowan and Tamsin Rose

31, Aug, 2022 @5:29 AM

Article image
Federal industrial relations minister Tony Burke blasts NSW government over train dispute
State ministers accused of ‘political games’ after asking Canberra to intervene to stop industrial action

Michael McGowan

17, Nov, 2022 @7:42 AM

Article image
Close of business: NSW government gives rail union Friday deadline to end industrial action
Government to seek termination of enterprise agreement unless further action is ruled out before weekend

Michael McGowan

01, Sep, 2022 @9:19 AM

Article image
Train strike dispute: NSW government threats won’t stop further disruptions, unions say
Dominic Perrottet says he will only seek to tear up workers’ agreement if industrial action ‘inconveniences’ commuters

Michael McGowan

05, Sep, 2022 @6:22 AM

Article image
Dominic Perrottet bets the house on a public relations war over NSW rail industrial action
The NSW government is hoping that frustrations over disruptions will turn sentiment against the rail union

Michael McGowan

31, Aug, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
Railroaded: the drastic actions to redefine victory in the Sydney train dispute
As new fronts open up in the war between the NSW government and the rail union, the definition of ‘winning’ is changing

Michael McGowan

02, Sep, 2022 @8:00 PM

Article image
NSW government backflips on union demands in a bid to end train dispute
Transport minister David Elliott says government will agree to changes worth about $260m to intercity fleet

Michael McGowan

29, Jun, 2022 @5:19 AM

Article image
NSW government loses bid to stop rail union’s industrial action
Fair Work Commission decision allows industrial action planned for Wednesday and Friday to go ahead

Michael McGowan

05, Jul, 2022 @8:03 AM