A Union that Moves Mountains

This is an edited extract from National Secretary Mark Diamond’s speech to the 2023 RTBU National Council Dinner in Brisbane.


One worker choosing to take action on their own is capable of making a difference.

But a united collective of workers choosing to take action is capable of moving mountains.

But I know what you’re thinking: ‘prove it to me, Mark. Prove to me that RTBU members can change the country when they work together.’

Challenge accepted.

The video you saw earlier highlights some of the great achievements of the RTBU over its first 30 years.

And the booklet commemorating the 30th anniversary of the union describes even more.

But if the achievements in the video and the booklet don’t convince you, then look at the things we’ve achieved for members - just in the past two years since our last National Council.

Where are our Delegates from the South Australia & Northern Territory Branch?

These guys led a campaign to see South Australia’s privatised train and tram operations returned to public hands, and earlier this year the South Australian government announced it had sealed the deal to take those services back.

This is the first time ever that an Australian state government has willingly reversed a public transport privatisation.

What an incredible win.

Where are our National Council Delegates from the Victorian Branch?

They’ve just managed to bring back the Retired Employees Travel Pass – a benefit for long-term public transport employees that was scrapped by the Kennett Government over 20 years ago.

And now it’s back, thanks to the RTBU!

And they achieved this all while negotiating an outstanding enterprise agreement at MetroWhere are our Delegates from Western Australia?

These guys not only completed their own amalgamation at the beginning of the year – bringing two separate branches together – but they have been the fastest growing branch in the country.

And they’ve played a critical role in securing a historic review of the WA State Government wages policy - a critical first step towards boosting the pay of government workers in the rail and public transport.

What about our members from Tasmania?

These guys have been dealing with a recruitment and retention crisis at the government-owned bus operator Metro Tasmania.

But thanks to the advocacy of our Tasmanian Branch, the Tassie Government has committed to new safety screens on buses, employing Transit Officers across the state, and is delivering a 10 per cent pay rise for bus drivers.

Incredible work!

Now, could our delegates from the mighty Queensland Branch please stand up?

These comrades are in the process of finalising a new Enterprise Agreements with Queensland Rail

And that agreement delivers the largest wage increase at QR since enterprise bargaining began.

We are talking double digit increases. Phenomenal!

Still not convinced?

Then let me tell you about our members from the NSW Branch.

This achievement needs a bit of explaining, because it’s such an incredible story.

At the beginning of last year, our members at Sydney Trains and NSW Trains were stuck in a seemingly intractable dispute with the NSW Government.

Not just over pay, and the unfair wages cap that imposed real wage cuts on workers year after year, but over the right of our members to work on safe trains, and the right of passengers to travel on safe trains as well.

As the months wore on, the dispute got more heated, and we started taking a range of industrial actions – while trying to minimise disruption to passengers as much as possible.

And then everything blew up.

It all started on the 9th of February, 2022, when the NSW Branch notified Sydney Trains of planned low level industrial actions.

The NSW Government responded by dragging the RTBU into the Fair Work Commission to stop workers from taking those actions.

After failing to get the outcome it wanted from the Commission, the NSW Government secretly decided to shut down the entire network and lock out its workforce.

So on Monday the 21st of February, rail workers members turned up to work, as per normal, only to be put on ‘stand-by’ and herded into meal rooms.

While they were sitting around wondering what was happening, the then-Premier – Dominic Perrottet, was live on commercial radio telling commuters that services had been cancelled because rail workers were on strike.

Then the NSW Transport Minister at the time, David Elliot, went on radio to accuse rail workers of “terrorist-like activities”.

And to cap it off, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, held a televised press conference where he said the so-called strike was a sign of what voters could expect if they voted for a Federal Labor Government.

It was full court-press of carefully stage-managed political outrage, based on a brazen lie.

Perrottet, Elliot and Morrison shut down Australia’s biggest city, and then lied about it in order to damage the RTBU and damage their political opponents.

What a stich-up.

And briefly, it worked.

People were understandably angry that the rail system had been shut down without warning, and they took their frustrations out on rail workers.

Our members were abused, threatened, spat at, and even assaulted.

But friends, things were about to change, and change quickly.

Once workers realised they’d been framed, they came out from their meal rooms and stood in front of the TV cameras, and they saidm “we’re not on strike, we’re here, and we’re ready for work”.

The truth started to come out, and the NSW Government was on the defensive, trying to explain its way out of the Fake Strike scandal.

Somehow, in all this chaos, the negotiations kept going.

Our members stayed staunch and refused to be intimidated.

And eventually, an agreement was reached

The state wages cap was smashed, workers received a fair pay rise, and the NSW Government finally agreed to fix the dodgy New Intercity Fleet.

And as for the Dominic Perrottet, David Elliot and Scott Morrison?

Well, you know the rest.

We’re still here, and they aren’t.

Could our delegates from the NSW Branch please stand up.

Thank you comrades, you moved a mountain.

It’s no wonder that employers who don’t respect us, have learned to fear us.

Having said that, the RTBU is not here just to have the fight.

We understand that building worker’s power is the means, not the end.

We’re an industry union, and our goal is to achieve strong, successful industries - providing good secure, safe jobs for Australian workers.

And we can achieve that end through many different ways. Negotiating better Enterprise Agreements and campaigning for better government policies are just two.

A smart, strategic union uses all the levers it has at its disposal.

And that’s why earlier this year we started looking at how to lift safety standards across our industries through delivering union-quality training.

We needed to find a training partner who had a reputation for doing training well, would not compromise on quality, and who displayed union values.

We did our due diligence and we found the partner we were looking for – Victorian based RTO Training Ahead Australia.

After some honest conservations, and respectful negotiations, we did the deal.

We’re now to chart the path ahead for TAA, to expand operations nationally, and eventually give all of our members, as well as all employees in our industries, the opportunity to access union-quality workplace training.

So why did we do it?

Because we could.

And we could, because, as a united, national, all grades union, we have the financial and organisational capacity to take on any project that is in the best interests of our members.

I don’t know if the elected representatives of our predecessor unions - the AFULE, ARU, ATMEOA and NUR - were thinking of delivering industry training when they were debating the merits of amalgamation in the early 90s.

I suspect they probably weren’t, but they were thinking about how to future-proof their unions.

And they knew, that being part of something bigger would allow them do things they could not do on their own - like acquiring a training organisation for the betterment of members and all workers in our industries.

And that’s why, I believe, the acquisition of Training Ahead Australia, and the decision to expand its operations nationally, was - in many ways - the moment our amalgamation reached its maturity, because it delivered, beyond a doubt, on the amalgamation promise.

Out Union has come way long way in the past 30 years.

Three decades on, we’re still building worker’s power.

We’re a respected, professional, member-led organisation – 35,000 members strong.

We’re a campaigning outfit that doesn’t just give our members a voice, it gives them a megaphone.

We’re expanding our reach and our influence across our industries - improving workplace safety, lifting the standard of training, and ensuring terms and conditions which allow workers in our industry to live a dignified life.

And it’s not over yet. We’re just warming up.

The success we have achieved in our first 30 years has given us momentum.

Our momentum, opens further opportunities. Opportunities for future, exponential success.

I can’t wait to see what the next 30 years brings.

Click here to see the video of the full speech