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Swab testing – the battle to get it right

Jul 29, 2015News

Following a long campaign by the RTBU, Sydney Trains and NSW Trains finally agreed to move to swab testing as a way of testing for alcohol and drugs in the last EA.

A working party comprised of employer and union representatives (including RTBU representatives) has since been set up to test and develop a transition process to move from taking urine samples to swab testing.

The committee reconvened last week to discuss the results of the first 1500-odd tests conducted so far and to agree on the next steps towards a full roll out of swab testing.

During the initial trial period, workers were asked to complete a survey following the swab testing procedure. The key findings include:

– 94% of those surveyed found the instructions on how to complete the oral collection were simple to understand.

– 48.43% found the oral fluid swab test less uncomfortable than the urine test; 36.32% said it was about the same

– 59.39% said the swab test was quicker and easier than the urine test; and 25.92% said it was about the same

– The majority (59%) felt more comfortable providing an oral swab as opposed to a urine sample.

While the union representatives have some concerns about the reporting around the trials itself (for example the lack of detail around the level of impairment of workers and the number of people who had difficulty taking part in the trials due to ‘dry mouth’ issues), the results quite clearly show the move to swab testing will be welcomed by workers.

Moving away from the invasive urine testing system and towards swab testing is a real win for workers’ rights and dignity, however the system must be properly reviewed and tested before being completely rolled out.

The RTBU and other unions will continue to work to ensure the drug and alcohol testing system provides both accurate results and ensures workers are dealt with in a dignified and respectful way.