Owen signs off

The golden thread which runs through Owen Doogan’s career has been sticking up for others. 


It’s a theme he’ll continue into his retirement with his work feeding the homeless and as a board member of the Queensland Community Alliance - which brings together faith groups, community organisations and unions.

Owen is stepping down after 30 years with the RTBU - 19 of those as Queensland Secretary.

As a young man growing up in Glasgow, Owen was involved in many industrial and social issues - including fighting the continuous attacks on working people’s rights by the infamous Thatcher Government. After several years of union activity in Glasgow, Owen took up a position with the then National Union of Railwaymen (now the RMT) in London.

After he moved to Australia, Owen threw himself into the union movement defending workers’ rights. He joined the union in 1991 and became Queensland Branch Secretary in 2002.

By the time he took on the Branch Secretary role, Owen had experienced and observed many workers’ trials and tribulations in other states and overseas, particularly relating to the expansion of precarious employment by private sector operators encroaching on what had historically been secure public sector work.

While Owen never let his attention stray from the continuous challenges of the rail, bus and tram public transport members needs, the changes in most of the freight businesses took the Union into a new world.

Owen was determined to ensure the RTBU was prepared for the inevitable spread of this to Queensland rail operations and to maximise the protection of members rights, conditions and job security.

Turbulent times

Over the next 15 years the rail workers in Queensland experienced the deluge of private operations commencing in the rail industry in Queensland. From one public sector company (Queensland Rail) running practically all rail activities in Queensland, the Union was faced with dozens of private operators emerging though the commencement of third-party operations, contracting out and privatisation.

This disruption to the industry came at a massive cost to workers. In particular, the privatisation of the government-owned QR National freight operation led to the callous closures of significant elements of the business such as workshops throughout the State. Communities like Ipswich, Rockhampton and Townsville woke up to find their local railway workshops were closing or sacking most of their workforces.

“It was an incredibly challenging time for members and their families,” recalls Owen.

The RTBU, however, never stopped fighting for job security and the maintenance of members’ conditions. Many battles had to be fought and, while not all were successful, Queensland members are now organised throughout the private sector with union-negotiated agreements in place to protect their rights.

Proud legacy

Incoming Queensland Secretary Peter Allen says Owen’s contribution to members’ lives has been immeasurable.

“Plenty of other unions would have fallen over under the weight of what happened in the past 15 years,” Peter said.

“We have a strong balance sheet and very strong membership, Owen has left us in terrific shape.

“And I know how proud he was to serve as RTBU National President for four years (2010-2014) representing RTBU members throughout Australia.”

As well as his community work Owen looks forward to playing tennis and golf, supporting his beloved Celtic Football Club, having an occasional flutter on the ponies and spending more time with his partner, Vivienne.

Meet the new guy

Incoming Queensland Secretary Peter Allen is known to many as the lead negotiator for the Aurizon EAs in 2019.

That was the year the union won back many of the pay and conditions taken from members three years earlier by the company’s disgraceful decision to cancel agreements in the middle of bargaining.

“Last year at the bargaining table the Aurizon negotiators literally said to us ‘You’ve got us on our knees, you’ve broken us’, that was a great feeling,” Peter said.

It was a very different feeling to three years earlier.

In the intervening period Peter and his team had been rebuilding membership and organisational strength in the coalfields and in freight.

That industrial action, and a strong media and social media campaign, ramped up pressure on the company.

“In 2016 Aurizon had reclassified hours so some shift workers no longer got penalties and so lost 20 per cent of their pay - we fixed that,” Peter said. “Others lost their work life balance due to Aurizon’s dodgy manoeuvrings - we fixed that.

“For everyone else we won a decent wage settlement, 2.5% a year for 3 years, and for some even more.”

“People got many conditions back and a decent wage increase, but the one thing they really got back was respect - they demanded it and they got it.

“They can walk a bit taller knowing that they got the best of Aurizon.”

Owen Doogan says Peter Allen is a tough negotiator with a sharp intellect and lateral thinking skills that often achieve excellent outcomes others would miss.

“I have full faith that members will find themselves in secure hands under Peter’s leadership to maximise future outcomes,” Owen said.