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Delegate Profile: Cootamundra delegate increases membership to almost 100 per cent

Dec 22, 2011Update

Brendan Lemay has been a RTBU delegate at Cootamundra for less than 12 months but in that short time has transformed his workplace. Since taking on the position of Depot Organiser he has increased membership in Cootamundra PN Bulk from 46 per cent to almost 100 per cent and has built a full depot organising committee.

Starting at PN in 2003 as a trainee Brendan transferred to Parramatta to become a crewing coordinator in 2008 when the drought meant the number of drivers at ‘Coota’ were cut from 46 to 17. A restructuring at PN in 2008 then saw him return to his home town.

“When I got back there was no delegate at the depot. There were a lot of issues that the guys were unhappy about and, because I had experience on both sides of the fence and an insight into rostering and how the railway works, they urged me to take on the role,” he explains.

Worried that the good working relationship with management he’d had built up would be damaged, Brendan was hesitant to get involved. In the end, he says, it was the gradual attack on our conditions over the last three EAs that convinced him that something needed to be done.

“When I started in 2003 we had support staff, shunters in the yard and shift supervisors. Now we are unmanned a lot of the time and, because of the shortage of drivers, the shifts are longer. Also new drivers are being pushed through training too quickly and are being sent out green after only 12 months.”

He says that previously there was a culture of give and take, now it’s just take.

The biggest issue of concern to the RTBU at Coota is the new master roster which is unreasonable, does not reflect the rising workloads and is extremely family unfriendly, with some drivers working 80 to 110 hours a fortnight when they should be working a 76-hour fortnight.

“Drivers are rostered to maximum shift lengths all the time,” says Brendan. “And there has recently been 81 shift breaches for drivers working outside their conditions.”

One of his first goals was to increase membership because during the last EA negotiations they fell short by a couple of votes. With 67 drivers with another 17 starting in the New Year, the key he says was to take every available opportunity to talk to people in the meal rooms, getting their opinions and listening to their issues.

“There was already a will to be unionised and to make change at the depot – it just needed to be organised,” he says. “Once we started talking the momentum built naturally by word of mouth, and now the membership is up, the mood is different at the depot, it’s far more positive with a sense of the drivers wanting to stick together to make things better,” he says.

“Being a delegate can be stressful and time consuming because people expect you to be able to solve all the problems – and my wife is not all that keen on me doing the extra work. I’m hoping that with all the new members and a good outcome at the EA in 2012 it may not be so intense. Then I can step back to a support role and members will have the ability to handle issues themselves.

Whenever I have needed it, support has always come from the Locomotive Division Officers, and never have I been left on my own or ignored when I’ve asked for advice or support.

“I don’t have ambitions to take my union career further. I joined to make a better workplace for me and my mates, if I can do that it will have been worthwhile.”