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Meet the newest organiser

Jan 20, 2014Update

Jessica Epps has been learning fast as the newest organiser for the Rail, Tram and Bus Union Locomotive Division.

At 23, Jessica is already a veteran of union activism, having worked for the Financial Union and for the National Tertiary Education Union.

“It’s a generational thing. My family has a long history with unionism, and I’ve worked with the union movement for quite a few years now,” she said. “When this opportunity came up I took it. It was a change, because I’ve never worked for a blue-collar union before – I came from the private industry. It’s been difficult and different, but definitely worthwhile.”

After five months of cadetship as a passenger organiser in the Loco Division, Jessica has been taking up the fight to management over everything from safety provisions and workplace conditions to uniform changes.

“At the moment, a lot of it is that Transport NSW is keen on reform. It’s about making sure Transport NSW doesn’t use the reform process as a backdoor way to get at conditions and entitlements.”

Jessica is one of only two organisers at the RTBU state branch who hasn’t previously worked in rail, and the level of help and support she’s received has blown her away.

“I thought I’d struggle being young and female and not having come off the job. But I’ve had nothing but support from the people around me – not only in the office, but from members in the workplace too,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of support in trying to understand the day-to-day workings of the railways. I’ve got the industrial knowledge, but I didn’t initially have that detailed knowledge about working on trains.”

The most surprising thing about taking up disputes was the simple details the union had to fight for.

“Management seems to have a disregard for employment conditions,” she said. “Particularly in regards to safety requirements. Every battle is exactly that – a battle. Wins don’t always feel like wins, because while you achieve decent outcomes, you shouldn’t have had to fight for it to begin with.”

She gave the example of a dispute over route training at the Liverpool Turnback, where drivers were told to traverse track they weren’t familiar with. The union had to step in to demand a simple, standard level of training and route familiarity.

“It took two weeks to deliver just that, and we had to put it into dispute to even get it. It’s something simple and straightforward. And it’s obviously unacceptable, it’s a breach of legislation, and the enterprise agreement, and their own rules and regulations, and we still had to kick up a fuss because they didn’t acknowledge that.”

“It’s little things like that, which you shouldn’t have to fight for but you do have to fight for,” she said. “That’s very exhausting.”

Jessica said the best part of her job was the ability to work with people passionate about what they do.

“It’s hard to explain, but there’s a very strong bond between the workers. I’ve never had a job where you can feel the passion and feel the issues in the way I do at the RTBU. And it makes it worthwhile. You’re all on the same page, and you’re doing it for the right reasons,” she said.

“You go out there, you do your best, you represent the members, and that’s all there is to it.”