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Sydney Trains Can Silence Its Workers But It Can't Silence Social Media

As confusion surrounds just what, exactly, is going wrong with the NSW transport system, social media is sparking up with solutions.

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Sydney Trains staff and their relatives are circumnavigating a media ban on employees talking to reporters by using social media to respond to criticism from the state government.

The ban on discussions with media is nothing new — in fact, it's a condition of employment. A representative from the Rail, Tram & Bus Union (RTBU) told BuzzFeed News that most of the employees the union deals with are not allowed to speak to the media without employer consent."From our perspective, it always makes it difficult to find workers from the 'shop floor' who can talk openly about an issue to the media," the representative said. "Given the current state of the enterprise agreement negotiations, there is also more sensitivity around this issue at the moment, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Sydney Trains are policing that element of their employment contract more rigorously than usual."Sydney Trains has not responded to multiple requests for comment from BuzzFeed News.
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The ban on discussions with media is nothing new — in fact, it's a condition of employment. A representative from the Rail, Tram & Bus Union (RTBU) told BuzzFeed News that most of the employees the union deals with are not allowed to speak to the media without employer consent.

"From our perspective, it always makes it difficult to find workers from the 'shop floor' who can talk openly about an issue to the media," the representative said.

"Given the current state of the enterprise agreement negotiations, there is also more sensitivity around this issue at the moment, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Sydney Trains are policing that element of their employment contract more rigorously than usual."

Sydney Trains has not responded to multiple requests for comment from BuzzFeed News.

As commuters in Australia's most populous city faced more uncertainty over rail services, Sydney Trains staff went to work on Monday instead of participating in a planned 24-hour strike that was deemed unlawful by the Fair Work Commission.

The announcement of the strike, which would have crippled the state's train services, came at the end of weeks of fruitless negotiations between the state government and the RTBU.
Brad Esposito / BuzzFeed News

The announcement of the strike, which would have crippled the state's train services, came at the end of weeks of fruitless negotiations between the state government and the RTBU.

The first large-scale use of social media occurred before the union's "soft" industrial action – overtime bans and workers calling in sick – began. A Reddit user claiming to be a Sydney train driver published a post on January 11 with a warning: "this is not going to get better."

The message received hundreds of comments and thousands of upvotes on the site's Sydney subreddit — so much so it garnered international attention. "Sydney Trains staff does not want to inconvenience you, but the railways have been stretched as far as it can by bureaucrats who have never caught a train in their lives," the original post read. "We only ask that you reserve your anger for those who caused this, and not the poor bastards on the frontlines who are doing their best to try to get you home and then have to use the system to get home themselves."
reddit.com

The message received hundreds of comments and thousands of upvotes on the site's Sydney subreddit — so much so it garnered international attention.

"Sydney Trains staff does not want to inconvenience you, but the railways have been stretched as far as it can by bureaucrats who have never caught a train in their lives," the original post read.

"We only ask that you reserve your anger for those who caused this, and not the poor bastards on the frontlines who are doing their best to try to get you home and then have to use the system to get home themselves."

People claiming to be relatives of Sydney Trains staff have also taken to Twitter to defend the workers, who they say are unable to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.

BuzzFeed News spoke with multiple staff who said they were wary of talking to media because of threats from senior Sydney Trains staff.

A person who says they are a former rail employee created the Twitter account @SydneyRailUser after NSW minister for transport Andrew Constance blamed frontline staff for the network meltdown. The person behind the account – who asked to remain anonymous – said there had been a lack of accurate or honest communication from officials to the public.

#SydneyTrains bosses are making calls to drivers who've said they’re not available for overtime on certain days, as… https://t.co/xNGPnxGnJx

"Everyone is very disillusioned and the leadership team is destroying staff morale more and more as time goes on," they told BuzzFeed News.

Email from #SydneyTrains CEO to all staff: "You must work as usual tomorrow."

@SydneyRailUser has been amplifying the issues facing Sydney Trains, as well as the voices of current and former staff on Twitter who are outraged with what's transpiring.

#SydneyTrains drivers on @TrainLinkWest yesterday were told to take 4 car trains when 8 car sets were available. So… https://t.co/mxY9LpPAdY

They said years of underinvestment and mismanagement had led the network to this point.

"The new timetable cannot run unless drivers are working overtime," said @SydneyRailUser. "The overtime is now impacting mental health and general wellbeing."

Constance has said overtime will always be part of a train driver's roster.

“The numbers that I’m seeing has not seen a marked shift in terms of the percentage of shifts that overtime is required to deliver the new timetable," Constance told Alan Jones on Sydney's 2GB Radio. "The railway is there to serve the people ... It's important that we live within our means as a government. These things need to be paid for. But what we’ve said is, we’ll work with the union bosses reasonably.”Constance did admit there is one problem: how the network recovers from major and unexpected incidents. "We're gonna look at how we can free up capacity," he said.
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“The numbers that I’m seeing has not seen a marked shift in terms of the percentage of shifts that overtime is required to deliver the new timetable," Constance told Alan Jones on Sydney's 2GB Radio.

"The railway is there to serve the people ... It's important that we live within our means as a government. These things need to be paid for. But what we’ve said is, we’ll work with the union bosses reasonably.”

Constance did admit there is one problem: how the network recovers from major and unexpected incidents. "We're gonna look at how we can free up capacity," he said.

Elsewhere, Twitter threads have gone viral from people saying they are distressed family members of trains staff. Marina says her brother has worked for Sydney Trains for almost a decade, and that its shrinking staff had led to a stressful working environment, as drivers and other employees left to work in Melbourne or Brisbane, "lured by better pay and conditions".

The drivers, the crew, the staff, need to know the people are behind them. This is NOT about money. It's about cond… https://t.co/tC9afIdgSd

"Since this new timetable, the network has only been running due to the goodwill of staff," she told BuzzFeed News.

One of Marina's Twitter threads went exceptionally viral last week.

@slsandpet @YaThinkN My brother is a Sydney Trains driver (on top of that he looks after me while I’m battling a ch… https://t.co/ZHdyJq3XcO

"Overtime in the Rails is not the same everywhere else," she said. "Overtime for them means working longer than Rail Safety allows and on their days off. But they're now exhausted – literally fatigued and exhausted."

Cath, who tweets from @Cat41968, has been venting for her husband. She says that after more than 30 years working on the railways, he is fed up.

@YaThinkN @davidr8203 Totally support everything @HappyNacho73 says. My husband is a guard and the hours expected o… https://t.co/w80svqiV8I

"Workers shouldn't have to live with the fear of losing jobs when they go above and beyond," she told BuzzFeed News.

"These guys are responsible for the public and safety yet they are treated with complete disdain.

"It hurts even more when information comes about huge tax cuts for big business courtesy of NSW government and they can't afford a pay rise that is halfway decent."

Brad Esposito is a news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Brad Esposito at bradley.esposito@buzzfeed.com.

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