Pacific National drivers ordered back to work after unlawful campaign jeopardises the operator's bottom line
By Brad Gardner | April 16, 2010
Pacific National train drivers waged an unauthorised campaign to disrupt train operations, potentially jeopardising the rail operator’s contract negotiations with customers and threatening its bottom line.
Despite not having approval for protected industrial action, drivers at Pacific National’s Melbourne depot collectively organised to stop work due to anger over a wage offer in a proposed new enterprise agreement.
Fair Work Australia found there was an agreement last month by some to cause service cancellations by calling in sick and refusing requests to fill the vacant shifts.
“The evidence, in my view, is compelling of a campaign to disrupt the Pacific National operations,” Fair Work Australia Commissioner Annette Larkin says, upholding the company’s argument that the action should be stopped.
The workers’ decision affected Pacific National’s express service, which is given top priority because customers pay a premium for it to have goods delivered quicker.
A Pacific National manager, Matthew Tamplin, told Fair Work Australia the disruptions might cause customers to reconsider using rail for time critical freight because of uncertainty over train operations.
Tamplin says Pacific National is currently negotiating contracts with two of its top 10 customers with combined annual revenue of $230 million and trying to win the services of a previous client.
“My concern is that ongoing disruptions may negatively impact on those contract discussions due to the company earning a reputation as being unreliable,” he says.
According to court documents, a Pacific National manager overheard train drivers alluding to industrial action.
“We might have a late train cancellation tonight. There might be some issues with the drivers,” one employee was alleged to have said.
“Yeah, and they may have some trouble covering that, from what I hear,” another replied.
A third employee in the discussion is said to have responded: “Yeah, I heard there might be a bit of Chinese flu going around next week as well.”
After this incident, Pacific National noticed an increase in the number of employees taking time off and struggled to find relief drivers to cover the shifts.
There was no evidence to point to involvement from the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), but a union representative had told Pacific National that drivers were not happy with the proposed enterprise agreement.
However, the RTBU repeatedly insisted it would not endorse or support any action other than protected action regardless of any frustration.
The union also told Fair Work Australia it spoke to drivers about the RTBU’s stance.
Under their existing enterprise agreement, Pacific National train drivers must comply with reasonable requests to work shift rosters and overtime.
Although they can decline to work overtime if the hours are unreasonable, Pacific National told Fair Work Australia the drivers routinely accepted extra work.