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Work-hour and rest-break protections to be scrapped under new laws

Mar 1, 2012Update

**This story has been updated here

The draft Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) covering hours of work and rest in the new Rail Safety National Law delivers a hammer blow to the safety and work-life balance of rail workers.

National Transport Commission (NTC) draft released this week recommends that the new Rail Safety National Law should not contain prescribed hours of work and rest for drivers.

Instead it prefers “operators to establish hours of work and rest through the risk-based approach, subject to consultative provisions and regulatory oversight.”

This means the current protective legislation in NSW, fought for by the RTBU, will be overridden. The law as it applies in New South Wales will change and will result in the removal of existing legislated hours of work and rest for drivers.

There is also the intention to repeal newly passed laws in Queensland that legislate mandatory maximum shift lengths before they even come into effect in 2013.

The bottom line is that if this proposal is passed into law it will lead to a lowering of safety standards. Pressure will mount to increase hours of work and reduce rest breaks to deliver employers greater flexibility, and this will have a devastating impact on workers’ family and social life.

In its deliberations RIS did not take into account the impacts on work-life balance, demonstrating that the priority driving the NTC is to increase “productivity” and “flexibility” for employers at the expense of workers’ safety and wellbeing.

The existing hybrid approach in NSW, where hours of works and rest breaks have been risk managed within a framework of safety-net hours for various categories of train drivers has worked extremely well. Most developed counties – Canada, USA and UK – also successfully use this hybrid approach.

NSW provisions also have an exemption clause for operators who want more flexibility, and special provisions for emergency working. As an indication of how well the system is working, there have only been three applications by employers for more flexible provisions over the last decade.

There have also been no complaints from employers, and workers have been able to actively participate in compliance and enforcement because the limits were clear to every one involved in the industry.

The other issue of deep concern to the RTBU is that the recommended guidance material for employers is to be based on the model used by the road-freight industry.

This model is completely unproven and has not been tried in any railway system or country in the world, and represents a dangerous backwards step from the current best practice regulation to worst practice.

The current road-transport model is incomprehensible, with both employers and unions unable to gauge the ramifications of the application of the model to the rail industry.

Unions were also not involved in the development of this model, with the NTC refusing delegates and employers the chance to explain their concerns about the guidance material.

The option recommended by the NTC will leave it up to operators to decide hours of work and rest without any clear boundaries in a process that will exclude of workers and their representatives.

What Can You Do?

It is crucial that RTBU members become involved in this fight. Your voice and the real story about rail safety needs to be heard by the NTC now because it has relied on academics and experts, rather than front line workers, in its decision-making process.

The NTC is fast-tracking the consultation process to be ready for the meeting of state transport ministers in May.

To show how serious the RTBU is about opposing these law changes, we need as many drivers as possible to turn up at the upcoming consultation forums in Sydney.

They will be held:

Tuesday March 6 (7pm – 9.30pm, Rydges World Square, 389 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW 2000).

Wednesday March 7 (9am – 11.30am, also at Rydges World Square)

To register for the forum go to http://emgevents.com/event/ntc/.

To read the full draft report:  Draft NRS RIS

Keep checking LocoExpress for updates and have your say about this important issue in the comments section of LocoExpress.