A Human Resources Consultants Perspective on the Sydney Train Strike

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Human Resources Consultants perspective Sydney Train Strike requires a look at some of the background issues leading up to this event.

What is the Sydney Train 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 resource consultants’ perspective.

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

To give further background to my opinion as a human resources consultant we need to look at the following two statements:

This statement from NSW.Gov.au on the new and improved transport system provides some is where it all started:

Over the next 10 years this essential program will transform Sydney’s busiest train lines with more services through digital systems, infrastructure upgrades, and more new trains.

The next stage of More Trains, More Services will investigate upgrades to parts of the network with state-of-the-art technology to create high capacity, turn up and go services for many customers.

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:

The additional services include:

more than 1500 new weekly train services, including 750 new weekend services

almost 7000 new weekly bus services for the Northern Beaches, Eastern Suburbs, Inner West, Lower North Shore, Macarthur and Hills Districts

introduction of the new B-Line for the Northern Beaches with over 2000 weekly services

more than 140 extra weekly ferry services including a new Cross Harbour ferry route linking the Eastern Suburbs, Lower North Shore, Inner West and Sydney CBD.

Human Resources Consultants perspective on the Sydney Train Strike. To meet the demands of the increased services, there has to be a plan in place. In order to ensure there is adequate human resources to meet the need:

I have not been able to find any information on any planned increase in the number of transport personnel, including train drivers to cover the increased work load. Further, 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. It would be necessary to have many more transport staff hired and trained to cover the new time table and increased services.

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.

Human Resources Consultants perspective Sydney Train Strike. One of the issues identified in the cause of problems with the transport system was Driver fatigue. Is this not, a human resources management and work health and safety issue:

According to some news articles Sydney train drivers are over worked to meet the demands of the new time table. Because of not having enough resources to meet the schedule.

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.”

Further, 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. Confirmed by the incident in Richmond this week which, as of writing this post, the cause is unclear, 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 …

Human Resources Consultants perspective Sydney Train Strike. Are different parts of the same government not under the same scrutiny as the rest of businesses in Sydney? The Fair Work Ombudsmen need to look at Transport NSW in relation to their treatment of their employees according to their compliance with 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 about 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 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 enough staff to cover all shifts and any short falls due to sickness.

The impact of drivers working so many hours and not having enough breaks could be the reason for so many calling in sick. Further, a recent meltdown with the train network was apparently due to 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 …

Human Resources Consultants perspective Sydney Train Strike. The Sydney train system really is in a bit of a mess and a lot of questions remain unanswered:

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? What is the potential for more accidents and fatalities due to the lack of fore thought and planning?

Human Resources Consultants perspective Sydney Train Strike. Multiple issues tie in to the Sydney transport system:

It would seem the issue with Sydney train transport system is not one issue but many. One of the issues related to transport woes is the population increase. According to 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:

24,809,524

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).

Human Resources Consultants perspective Sydney Train Strike. Various factors and time of year effect the transient population of Sydney, which I don’t think is factored in to the ABS information:

Does the bureau of statistics factor in the transient visitors to Sydney in these figures that also effect our trains and infrastructure? We have international students and tourists, business travellers and various visa holders all coming in to Sydney.

Do we have the infrastructure and systems to cope? Sydney trains is just one of the areas under strain, accommodation is also. We saw not long ago, read or saw a report on how poor the accommodation was for visitors. I suspect our schools, hospitals and other primary services are struggling to cope with the rising population of Sydney.

In Conclusion to Human Resources Consultants perspective Sydney Train Strike:

My perspective on the Sydney Train Strike is there are questions that need answers, but looking for fault, causes or blame is not going to fix the issue.

The situation in Sydney while not as bad as some other highly populated cities still does not provide a very comfortable way for us to live. Overcrowding on trains and roads and housing is just one of the many uncomfortable factors of growing populations.

We need an action plan in place to address the issues and fast. Our population is increasing, and we must have a city that can cope.  We also need to look after our people working on our transport system. The Fair Work Ombudsmen needs to review the treatment of the transport system employees as it would any other industry.

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