Federal Politics

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Minister trains an old culture down new track

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN has the job of turning around the Titanic. The defining challenge for the Transport Minister is the long-promised overhaul of RailCorp and its culture of mediocrity. It seemed simple in opposition. Everything from the infamous train breakdown on the Harbour Bridge to surly service at the station could be blamed on Labor government kowtowing to the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.

Under a Coalition government, the 15,000-strong RailCorp bureaucracy would be cracked like a walnut and refocused on the 800,000 people who use the trains every day. ''The customer is at the centre of everything we do,'' Berejiklian said last year.

She created a customer service division at Transport for NSW and will use a review of RailCorp's structure as reason to embark on a clean out.

Privately, Berejiklian concedes imposing cultural change has been harder than she thought but there are some signs she is getting management on side, with a spate of recent disciplinary proceedings for breaches of workplace codes of conduct.

These cases also prove the RTBU will fight to keep the job of every worker - no matter what their offence - and the union is often aided by the industrial courts.

Consider three recent cases in which a RailCorp worker has been sacked but reinstated on appeal by the Transport Appeals Board:


1. Upokoina Tauia, a worker at the Clyde maintenance depot, returned an alcohol breath test 0f 0.06 grams at 6.51am on December 5, 2010. An hour later, the result rose to 0.07 grams.

According to the board's judgment, Tauia had consumed 10 stubbies of beer the night before. RailCorp management was concerned his rising reading was a sign he'd drunk in the morning before his 6am shift indicating he was a ''regular and/or heavy drinker'' who posed a greater risk of re-offending. The board ordered he be reinstated with back pay.

2. Russell Walters told investigators he'd had ''eight or nine'' schooners of beer before reporting for trackwork at Lithgow in March last year. He returned a reading of 0.052 grams of alcohol.

He conceded he had avoided work on days when testing was to occur. He was also reinstated with back pay.

3. Abdul Alameddine, a customer service attendant at Bankstown station was sacked in September 2011 after he followed a passenger onto a platform with two other men and threatened him.

RailCorp said he had ''showed a distinct lack of honesty'' throughout its investigation, with further evidence that he had flouted rules by leaving ticket barriers unattended, ''failed to assist a female passenger in a wheelchair'' and left the control room unattended to pursue the passenger who complained about his behaviour. He was also reinstated with back pay.

The RTBU will fight to keep the job of every worker.

In each case the board found that dismissal was too harsh.

In Mr Walters's case, his lawyer submitted that RailCorp was dealing with the ''behaviour of men not angels''. After a year in the job, Berejiklian is fully aware of that.