Past six months: Rail Tram and Bus Union, Sydney Trains, and the NSW Government have 30 meetings trying to resolve long-running dispute over new enterprise agreement.
Union demands better pay and conditions and improvements to hygiene and safety, and no moves to privatise the network.
Friday, February 18: NSW Minister for Transport David Elliott flies to Darwin.
Saturday, February 19: Two sides meet for conciliation with Sydney Trains and government sending 10 lawyers at a $500,000 cost to taxpayers.
Government wants all industrial action halted and is pushing for the Fair Work Commission to arbitrate the contract dispute. Union is dead against that as it claims the Commission is stacked with anti-union members.
Union agrees to cancel a ban on overtime and other plans in exchange for being able to go ahead with scaled-down industrial action on Monday for two weeks, and the government withdrawing arbitration push.
Action limited to a ban on ‘altered working’ and other flexible rostering that Sydney Trains uses to respond to changes on the network.
Union secretary described altered working as: ‘You know you’re going to work on a particular time, but you don’t quite know the duties you’re going to be doing.’
Sunday, February 20: Mr Elliott is still in Darwin, but flies back to Sydney.
Meanwhile, the NSW government realises it agreed to a deal that protects industrial action by the union. Transport for NSW claims the network cannot operate safely under the ‘altered working’ ban.
8pm Sunday: Government sends Crown solicitors to the Fair Work Commission to demand the industrial action be called off and ‘clarify’ the deal. Union leaders are not present but RTBU’s lawyers are.
Fair Work Commission sides with the union and the industrial action is scheduled to go ahead.
11.50pm Sunday: Michael Coutts-Trotter, the state’s top public servant, gets a text message that the rail network would not be operating. He is supposed to pass this message on to Premier Dominic Perrottet, but is asleep and doesn’t hear his phone beep.
Monday, 1.38am: Transport for NSW secretary Rob Sharp sends an email suddenly cancelling all services in what rail workers called a ‘dummy spit’.
He and the government claim the industrial action compromised rail safety and they had no choice but to shut it down.
Union secretary Alex Claassens later rejects this, arguing the limited industrial action would cause delays but was easy to work around if Sydney Trains was properly prepared.
5am: Sydney Trains tell passengers via social media that all trains are cancelled and they will need to find alternative transport.
Train staff show up to work, only to find themselves locked out. Union bosses are also taken by surprise, thinking the deal was still in place.
8am: Mr Claassens holds an emotional press conference where he lashes the government and explains the death of his friend on the job is an example of why workers are demanding better safety standards.
He earlier went on radio to accuse the government of ‘spitting the dummy’ and shutting down the network to embarrass the union.
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