The rail union could scrap plans to make Sydney’s train travel free for commuters after a court threat from NSW government.
The government announced it would take the Rail, Tram, and Bus Union to Federal Court over its plans to turn off gated Opal card readers between 3pm and 7pm on weekdays, indefinitely.
The union and government have been locked in heated negotiations for months over a new enterprise agreement that has left Sydney commuters at the mercy of numerous strikes and delays, and will face off in court on Thursday.
The shutdown was planned to begin on Thursday, but Transport Minister David Elliott declared the government would be seeking damages for the loss of revenue resulting from the “unprotected” industrial action.
“I will be going to the Federal Court to seek damages and repayments from the RTBU for the loss of revenue that will be lost by NSW taxpayers in the course of this action,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“I’m calling on the RTBU to set aside this action.
“You’re only endangering the lives of commuters and you’re only denying the taxpayers of NSW revenue.”
RTBU secretary Alex Claassens hit back with claims that turning off Opal card readers is the only industrial action that doesn’t disrupt commuters.
“The NSW Government has shown time and again that they’re more interested in using taxpayer dollars on legal fees than they are in reaching an agreement that guarantees the safety of commuters,” the union boss said.
“The government is doing everything except sitting down and trying to reach a genuine agreement.”
Minister Elliott confirmed that the government cannot prevent the union handing out free public transport, but said he hopes the federal court case will help them to recover some of the revenue lost from the disruption.
“It could be in the tens of millions of dollars,” he said.
“The union needs to think very carefully about that because if they’re caught up with recovering the costs and loss of revenue, the union is going to be in a lot of financial trouble.
“I make no apology for that.”
Representatives for the RTBU attended a last-minute hearing with Sydney Trains at the Federal Court at 3.30pm on Wednesday afternoon to determine whether it could proceed with the proposed shutdown.
Although the union had been hoping for some clarification, the matter was put over for a case management hearing at 11am on October 21.
“We are hopeful that the Court will determine whether our Opal machines action can proceed before Thursday, but unfortunately that may not occur,” a statement to union members read on Wednesday.
If the Opal reader shut down does go ahead, Sydney Trains CEO Matt Longland warned customers they may be caught out as not all readers will be turned off.
“Customers that are tapping on at one station with a reader and not be able to tap off at another,” he said.
“When a reader is turned on, continue tapping your Opal card and we’ll do everything we can in the background with the Opal system to manage the impact of customers.”
The three-quarters of Sydney train stations that don’t rely on gated Opal readers will continue to operate as normal, Mr Longland said.