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New InterCity Fleet (NIF), the cost of arrogance

Mar 8, 2021NSW Trains Update

Whilst the respective parties involved in all things NIF pause to reflect on the Full Bench Fair Work decision that NSW Trains cannot implement the proposed classifications of Intercity Specialist Driver and Customer Service Guard, it’s worth pausing to reflect on how this debacle came to be and who is ultimately responsible for the same. In 2015, the NSW Government awarded the contract to supply the NIF to replace the older existing “V” Set fleet and free up the “OSCAR” trains to return to Sydney trains suburban services, in short the contract and ensuing order were to replace the entire existing electric InterCity fleet with new rollingstock.

In 2016, Transport for NSW (TfNSW), after input from NSW Trains, signed off on the NIF trains design. This was the first instance of arrogance; in more than 150 years of railway operations, no consultation occurred with the workers who would operate the rollingstock or the Union that represents them. The result? A train designed to remove frontline railway workers jobs and privatise train maintenance, thereby doing away with further jobs. TfNSW and NSW Trains touted that the new train could be operated in 3 modes, Driver only, Driver and Guard and Driver and second person. However, their design of the train and crew workstations clearly prohibited the current safe working methods of the Guards existing roles and responsibilities. The removal of these Guards duties clearly indicated those existing duties could only be allocated to the driver meaning a substantial increase in driver responsibilities and workload.

NSW Trains than commenced a round of discussions with the RTBU in regard to its preferred operating model of Driver only operations. It was during lengthy and detailed discussions that further arrogant intensions were revealed. It became apparent that scant regard was displayed in relation to the role the guard currently delivers and has done so for decades. It also became obvious that further scant regard was paid to the driver’s welfare in various scenarios with, in one example relating to managing a train fire with a single person on the train, the arrogant reply was “that’s why we have insurance”. Fortunately, following considerable political pressure, common sense prevailed and the Driver only option was taken off the table.

It is worth noting that innumerable highly paid so called “experts” were engaged in this process for more than a year. One can only guess at the cost of this wasted effort.

Following the political announcement that guards would be retained on Intercity trains, TfNSW and NSW Trains embarked on another arrogant exercise to dilute the current Guards role that of a paid passenger on the premise of “enhancing customer service” with its tabling of their proposed operating for the NIF in June 2019. Since that date, they have blindly and arrogantly continued to justify their position with never ending rhetoric about how safe the new technologies of this train are and coupled with their operating model, these will deliver an “enhanced customer experience”. Despite detailed safety concerns being raised with their proposed operating model, arrogance came to the fore again with an absolute refusal to deviate from their ultimate aim, that of job cuts and wage reductions. This blatant arrogance is enhanced by TfNSW and NSW Trains refusal to consult appropriately through the agreed mechanisms of Clause 12 of the Enterprise Agreement to achieve an outcome supported by their employees and pushed ahead with their so called “managerial prerogative” to evoke job and wage outcome changes. This position was apparently legally supported by the very people who designed and supported the incorporation of Clause 12 into the previous and existing Enterprise Agreements. These supposed changes under managerial prerogative were obviously challenged which ultimately (and at great expense) has led to the current Fair Work Full Bench Decision.

Once again, it’s worth noting that a further multitude of so-called experts were engaged and remain engaged in another fruitless exercise at the taxpayers’ expense.

As the whole NIF process approaches its 5th year, it’s worth reflecting on the ultimate cost of this debacle to date. Countless millions of taxpayer’s monies have been wasted on an ideological position that has delivered nothing however, the real and greatest cost is the human one. NSW Trains employees who enjoyed a positive and secure working life have seen it turned upside down and inside out over the previous almost 5 years. Employees (and their families) have suffered psychological trauma as a direct result of this continued uncertainty, many have left NSW Trains to avoid the same and no new employees want to enter this uncertain workplace.

And what of the cost to the most vulnerable within our community who should have the ability to safely utilise public transport? The disabled, the elderly and young children. At what point does a costing cutting business case override their safety and well-being? The simple answer to that is NEVER, and so is every answer after that!!

Therein lies the ultimate cost of arrogance.