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NSW government threatens transport union with legal action

NSW Transport Minister David Elliott has threatened to take legal action against the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) if it carries out its plan to deactivate Opal card reader machines.

user iconJess Feyder 20 October 2022 Big Law
 NSW government threatens transport union with legal action
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The RTBU NSW secretary Alex Claassens has told union members to shut down their reader machines between 3:00-7:00pm each weekday starting Thursday (20 October) — for an indefinite period. 

This action is the latest in an ongoing dispute between the government and RTBU, which has taken a variety of industrial action throughout the years over wages and conditions, as well as safety concerns about the billion-dollar South Korean-made intercity fleet that is sitting idle. 

“We need to make sure that all gates get switched off and stay off,” Mr Claassens told union members. “If anyone comes to your station to switch the Opal readers back on, please let us know immediately as this may constitute adverse action.”


As reported earlier on Tuesday (18 October) by, Mr Elliott has hit back, saying this could put lives at risk, and alleged the actions are potentially illegal. 

“These instructions from the unions to tell its members to flick switches, to hit emergency lines, to disengage, and trip electronic equipment … is potentially illegal; and it is very, very dangerous. 

“We have seen a new low in industrial relations in this state,” Mr Elliott told reporters during a press conference.

“Not for half a century have we seen a union initiate and instigate illegal activity,” he said and claimed he would pursue legal action if it occurs. 

“I will go through any court in the country to make sure that any person that is seen to be doing this is prosecuted.

“I’m saying to the union, that if your members deliberately break the law, I will pursue through any avenue I can for those staff members to be charged, prosecuted and set.”

Mr Elliott said the forfeited revenue as a result of this action “will be in the tune of the millions”, noting he will go to the Federal Court to seek damages and repayments from the RTBU for the loss of revenue.

Mr Claassens argued that the government threatening legal action is “proof” of an ongoing political fight rather than the two parties working towards an agreement, reported on Tuesday night. 

“The government is doing everything except sitting down and trying to reach a genuine agreement,” he stated.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson told NCA NewsWire: “Sydney Trains does not consider this ban to be protected or lawful action and is seeking legal advice and will write to the RTBU seeking a withdrawal of this action.”

Mr Elliott argued that flicking the “emergency button” to turn off the gates at three-quarters of NSW stations is unprotected industrial action, as it means staff are doing something they don’t do on a day-to-day basis. 

A spokesperson for the union said the upcoming action was protected as it was voted in favour by members and notice was given to the Fair Work Commission, ABC reported on Tuesday.

The government’s decision to take legal action will only waste taxpayer funds, said the RTBU, “they should instead negotiate fair conditions for rail workers”.

“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,” Mr Claassens argued. 

“As far as we’re concerned, we’re within our rights to do that; it’s protected industrial action.

“If they’ve got a problem with that, they can take us wherever they need to take us to have that conversation.” 

Mr Elliott stated the “financial burden” the union would cop if the court case is successful should act as an incentive to end the strike and action.

“It could be in the tens of millions of dollars.

“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,” he stated.

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