VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism •


Rail workers strike for a living wage

(Above: RTBU organiser Hayden Boyle)

Rail workers including suburban train drivers in Adelaide are taking strike action to win a 20% pay rise over four years. 

In their way stands multinational corporation Keolis Downer who operates the suburban train services under contract to the SA Government.

A 20% pay rise over 4 years is by no means an exorbitant wage claim when inflation rates and increases in cost-of-living increases in real terms are arguably higher than 5% per year.

Keolis Downer's current wage offer is 14.7% over 4 years.

The Rail, Tram and Buses Union (RTBU) members have taken strike action of 4 hour to 5-hour periods of time a couple of times a week over the last two weeks.  They have timed the stoppages to escalate the impact of the action which has included overtime bans.

On Friday 19 April, the RTBU members telegraphed to Keolis Downer and the SA Government that they would strike for 24 hours on Thursday 2 May if Keolis Downer did not agree to members’ claims.

Thursday 2 May is the same day that the two SA based AFL teams Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide play their first of two annual "showdown" games. With no trains running on that day, the SA Government will have to organize extra buses to provide alternative public transport to and from the Adelaide Oval. Thousands of fans travel by train to the games and businesses will be pressuring Keolis Downer and the SA Government to "resolve the dispute" before Thursday 2 May.

Bread and Circuses

A big part of the Malinauskas Government's strategy is to keep the people happy by feeding them one "circus" after another in one form or another. The showdown football matches between Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide are two of the annual "circuses",

The potential 24-hour strike action on 2 May will disrupt the showdown "circus " but the SA Government also knows that workers like the RTBU need more than the cost of "bread" being offered by Keolis Downer. 

Publicly the Government is saying that the dispute is an industrial matter between the employer Keolis Downer and its employees represented by the RTBU. Behind the scenes though, bet London to a brick that the Government is in earnest talks with both Downer and RTBU. An added concern for the SA Government is that the higher wages rail workers win, the more likely that other public sector workers will want to match it in their Enterprise Agreements where the SA Government is their employer and the harder it will be for private capitalist businesses to keep wages as low as possible. 

The Malinauskas Labor Government is finding out that it is no easy task to make capitalism acceptable to workers and at the same time be viewed favourably by capitalists!

Suburban trains were outsourced to Keolis Downer by the previous Liberal Government. The Malinauskas led Labor Government won the last state election in March 2022 vowing to reverse the outsourcing of train services if it won the election. 

In 2023 it announced that it would phase out Keolis Downer's contract over four years with train drivers the first to once again be directly employed by the SA Government in late 2025 and other Keolis Downer employees becoming government employees by the end of 2027.

How seriously will the SA Government be looking at introducing an automated rail transport system with no train drivers?  

They would be aware this has occurred in a limited way in NSW. 

Another aspect of the dispute is that the RTBU is a relatively small union. In the age of big unions covering many different industries, the RTBU has maintained its identity and independence and a high level of member engagement in the running of the dispute and solidarity between members.