A Human Resources Consultants Perspective on the Sydney Train Strike

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A Human Resources Consultants Perspective on the Sydney Train Strike

What is the strike about?

As Sydney commuters and business owners prepare for day of massive disruption on Monday and slowed services from today, Thursday 25/01/18 it is time for some perspective. Is this massively annoying disruption for a justifiable reason or just about more money? Understanding some of the details in the Sydney train strike from a human resources consultants perspective.

Ok, here is my take from a Human Resources Consultant and specialist in developing a culture of high performance and profit.

This statement from Transport NSW on the new and improved transport system is where it all started:

New timetables, more services. Sunday 15 October.
From 26 November, more than 8,600 new weekly train, bus and ferry services will start across Sydney and surrounds. We’re simplifying the transport network to meet the needs of a growing Sydney.Oct 15, 2017

New timetables, more services – Transport NSW


How was all this improvement possible in such a short time? It takes skill and training to operate a train, a ferry and drive a bus in this fast-paced city. How many new train drivers were employed and trained, as well as bus and ferry operators?

This statement from Transport NSW is just about the increased train services:

More Trains More Services | Transport for NSW


Dec 6, 2017 – A new timetable was launched on 26 November 2017 to deliver More Trains, More Services. More than 1,500 extra weekly services, including more than 750 on weekends. 71 per cent of stations will now receive a minimum 15-minute service frequency across most of the day – a 43 per cent increase.

What was the plan in place to meet the demands of the increased services:

At the time of writing this article I have been unable to find any detailed information on how many new train drivers were employed and trained to cover the new time table and increased services. I have not been able to find any information on any planned increase in the number of train drivers to cover the increased work load.

To use a typical project management tool, the triple constraint, which basically put states that if you increase the scope you increase the time and you increase the cost. The scope in this example is the number of services running, which means you must have the resources to maintain the quality and meet the schedule within the budget.

Driver fatigue:

We can immediately see there was a big issue with increasing the number of services on the train system in terms of having enough resources to meet the schedule. According to some articles Sydney train drivers are over worked to meet the demands of the new time table.

One article is from the Sydney Morning Herald talking with one of the drivers about a recent meltdown on the train system and he said:

“It’s not even about entitlements, it’s about fatigue. For that day I drove trains for six hours straight,” he said.

“Most of the time when things go wrong it works all right because they have an excess of staff and they can sort of cover anomalies.”

“There was not an excess of staff on Tuesday, and Frank said that lack of standby staff combined with shorter dwell times for trains meant there is less flexibility when there are delays.”

I have read elsewhere of drivers doing so much over time they are clocking up 11 hours without a break. This is a recipe for disaster. As confirmed by the incident in Richmond this week which as of writing is unclear of the cause, but some suggestions are the train driver failed to break or slow down. Under fatigue, we make far more mistakes.

Richmond train crash: ‘Horrifying’ accident at station in Sydney injures …


3 days ago – Around 16 people were injured when a train failed to brake and hit a barrier at Richmond Station in Sydney’s north-west on Monday morning, with one witness saying passengers were sent “flying like Superman”. … Initial reports suggested the train derailed, but Sydney Trains CEO …

Is transport NSW not under the same scrutiny with the treatment of its employees as other employers under the Fair Work Act?

There are also issues with the train systems infrastructure and its capacity to cope with the added services. However, this article is focused on the human element of the current issue with the Sydney Train network. We have in place a Fair Work system and have for some time been focused on making the work environment fairer on the employee. It would seem, to me, to be quite an unfair burden on the Sydney Train Drivers to meet the capacity of increased services without sufficient staff to cover all shifts and any short falls due to sickness.

The impact of drivers working so many hours and not having sufficient breaks could well be the reason for so many calling in sick. A recent meltdown with the train network was blamed on driver sickness and lightning strikes causing signal failure, as stated by the CEO in the following article:

Sydney Trains To Look At Timetables After Blaming Sick Staff …


Jan 10, 2018 – Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins blamed lightning strikes and driver sickness for Tuesday’s chaos. He apologised to commuters for Tuesday’s delays. “It all kicked off with some pretty significant weather issues, lightning strikes taking out signalling at various locations. We had a blip of genuine sickness …

Sydney train system really is in a bit of a mess:

There needs to be a review of how much planning went in to meet the demands of the new time table and increased services. How many train drivers were up and ready to meet the demands? Is the infrastructure capable of meeting the demands? Was there due consideration and contingency plans put in place for natural disasters, sickness, fatigue, holidays and work load?

Is the action of the unions all about money or is it about getting attention on a much bigger issue, the potential for more accidents and fatalities due to the lack of fore thought and planning? I guess this will not be an issue when trains are so computerised they run themselves, but for now they are driven by drivers and they are human.

No quick fix:

It would seem the issue with Sydney train transport system is not one issue but many. There are many other factors affecting the infrastructure and systems such as the following from The Australian Bureau of Statistics:

Population clock

On 25 January 2018 at 04:22:53 PM (Canberra time), the resident population of Australia is projected to be:


This projection is based on the estimated resident population at 30 June 2017 and assumes growth since then of:

·       one birth every 1 minute and 44 seconds,

·       one death every 3 minutes and 17 seconds,

·       a net gain of one international migration every 2 minutes and 20 seconds, leading to

·       an overall total population increase of one person every 1 minute and 26 seconds.

These assumptions are consistent with figures released in Australian Demographic Statistics, June Quarter 2017 (cat. no. 3101.0).

We have international students, tourists, migrants, business travellers and various visa holders as well as refugees all coming in to Australia and many in Sydney. Do we have the infrastructure and systems to cope? Sydney trains is just one of the areas being strained, housing is also. I would suspect the schools are as well with large classroom sizes and teacher shortages.

The situation in Sydney is not as bad as some other highly populated cities but it still does not make for a very comfortable way for humanity to live. Over crowding on trains and roads and housing is just one of the many uncomfortable factors of growing populations.

The strike has been called off by Fair Work but the issue is not resolved it is only a temporary fix to an ongoing issue.

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