Federal Court stalls union action on Opal card readers at Sydney train stations

A judge has refused to expedite a hearing on the legality of a proposal to turn off card readers.

A judge has refused to expedite a hearing on the legality of a proposal to turn off card readers. Photo: AAP

The Australian rail union will have to wait until next year to learn whether it can legally turn off Opal card readers at Sydney train stations in its ongoing industrial dispute with the New South Wales government.

On Tuesday afternoon, Justice Elizabeth Raper refused an application by the Rail, Tram and Bus Industry Union to expedite a hearing on whether the proposal to turn off the readers was legal and protected.

The judge dismissed the expedition bid, which was also backed by the NSW government-run Sydney Trains, after saying last week that the courts would not be a mere “adviser” to organisations about whether certain industrial action was permitted or not.

The rail union asked for a quick answer from the Federal Court so it knew as soon as possible whether it could proceed without putting itself or its members at legal risk.

On Monday, Justice Raper also refused a separate request by the RTBU that she step down from overseeing the matter.

The hearing will now occur over two days in February or March on a date yet to be fixed.

The court will determine whether proposals to turn off the Opal card readers in August and September this year were actually industrial action which was protected by ballot orders made by the Fair Work Commission.

The question of whether the current proposal to switch off the readers announced by the union on October 16 is industrial action will also be considered.

The union and government are locked in a protracted stoush over a new enterprise agreement, and are also at loggerheads over a Korean-built fleet of intercity trains, in storage since 2019.

The union argues the trains are not safe to operate in NSW yet, while the government insists they are.

A spokesperson for Transport for NSW noted the court’s decision.

“Transport for NSW continues to take the appropriate measures necessary to minimise the impact of any planned union action on commuters,” they said.

“Sydney Trains and NSW Trains remain committed to finalising a new enterprise agreement.”

The RTBU did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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