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The Importance of Being Earnest With Workers

It’s not every day that Oscar Wilde is quoted at a union rally. 

“Yes, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” RTBU delegate Paddy Finnegan told the crowd gathered outside the Fair Work Commission. On the overcrowded Exhibition Street footpath, some of us were quite literally standing in the gutter.

“Comrades, I want every one of you to look up at the stars with me. We’re going to win this.”

We got to talking about Wilde - Paddy’s fellow Irishman - after the rally, as we waited for the start of the conciliation hearing that would decide the fate of station attendants like him. 

“I’ve been working for Metro Trains for 20 years now. I started at Flagstaff Station, and now I work at North Melbourne.” His job is mainly to assist people in getting through the ticket barriers if they can’t, for whatever reason. 

“But with this supposed restructure, they could send me anywhere, or nowhere. I don’t want to be a stranger to my kids, getting home after they’ve gone to bed and leaving before they wake up. It used to be a family-friendly industry. Not so much anymore.”

In an attempt to undermine the solidarity of union members, Metro has put out a call for expressions of interest for new positions, for those affected by the restructure. The union is discouraging anyone from making a submission, and Paddy isn’t having any of it. 

“You don’t know what you’re applying for! What position, what locations, what level, nothing. They just want people to buy into the plan.”

Metro Trains workers gathered in solidarity ahead of the conciliation meeting at Fair Work

Metro Trains workers gathered in solidarity ahead of the conciliation meeting at Fair Work

“There’s another quote that I wish I’d used today, considering the circumstances. I don’t know if it’s Oscar Wilde or not, but I wanted to say ‘There’s no point closing the gate after the sheep have bolted.’ Do you know what I mean by that?” His tone has shifted. Now he’s staunch serious. 

“I mean that we have to fix this problem with Metro making these decisions on their own now, because next time it won’t matter. It’ll be over already.”

He didn’t know what outcome was likely to come out of the hearing. “Lawyers love adjournments,” was all he ventured, with a shrug. 

That was on Tuesday morning, and the passage of time has proven him wrong. A result was indeed reached, and a positive one at that.

The conciliation saw the union and the employer agree on a far more structured and transparent method for any proposed restructure that may or may not happen. Involuntary redundancies have been dropped in favour of voluntary ones, and the parties will meet regularly for the purpose of finalising the joint review of position descriptions for Station Master grades under the Agreement. Effectively, the power for Metro to do whatever they want without consultation has been taken away from them.

Whatever happens next, the union now has a clear mandate to hold the employer to account. As always, we’ll keep faithful readers up to date as development arise.

It’s not every day that Oscar Wilde is quoted at a union rally. “Yes, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” RTBU delegate Paddy Finnegan told the crowd gathered outside the Fair Work Commission. On the overcrowded Exhibition Street footpath, some of us were quite literally standing in the gutter. “Comrades, I want every one of you to look up at the stars with me. We’re going to win this.”

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