Level crossing replacement works at Ormond Rail Station Photo: Paul Jeffers Work to remove the Mountain Highway level crossing in Bayswater Photo: Jason South
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Hundreds of rail workers have voted to take four days of industrial action from next Friday, in a decision that threatens to shut down work on nine level crossing removal projects under way in Melbourne.

Three unions are in dispute with Metro Trains over a new workplace agreement for rail infrastructure workers, who are essential to the government’s pledge to remove 20 level crossings in this term.

The Electrical Trades Union, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union and Professionals Australia have agreed to take four days of industrial action between May 27 and May 30. The action will stall projects that Metro Trains Melbourne is involved in.

More than 600 union members have agreed to the move, which is unlikely to affect commuters at this stage, but could disrupt the government’s timelines for its signature level crossing promise.

Construction is under way to remove nine level crossings on the Andrews government’s list of 50 that are due to go within eight years, and work on all these would have to stop while the industrial action takes place.

They include three crossings on the Frankston line, at North Road, McKinnon Road and Centre Road, where Metro and the government have announced a 37-day shutdown from late next month for major works.

Passengers will have to catch replacement buses between Moorabbin and Caulfield during this “construction blitz”, and the industrial dispute threatens to interfere with and potentially extend the 37-day shutdown if it has not been resolved by then.

Work at two crossings in St Albans, two in Bayswater and one each in Blackburn and Mitcham would also be delayed by next week’s four-day stoppage.

The projects have a combined cost of more than $1 billion.

The negotiations over a new enterprise bargaining agreement involve a different part of Metro’s workforce to those staff who went on strike last year and brought most of Melbourne’s public transport system to a halt.

But negotiations with the infrastructure division began at a similar time and have dragged on for about a year.

Metro was notified of the intention to take industrial action late on Thursday,  giving the company seven days to respond to the unions’ joint demands and avert project delays.

Metro staff who have voted to take action include track and signal maintainers, and safe-working staff essential for planned shutdowns, meaning construction could not proceed, even though many level crossing project workers are not Metro employees.

The Age understands Metro’s proposed changes to rosters and penalty rates, particularly involving increased night-time work, are a major point of dispute.

Luba Grigorovitch, the RTBU state secretary, said Metro’s claims would have a negative effect on workers’ pay and work-life balance.

“Infrastructure workers are the backbone of the network and keep the system running,” Ms Grigorovitch said.

Members feel they are being taken for a ride by Metro who have continuously failed to recognise the significant role their workforce has played in providing a safe network for commuters, 24-hour public transport and the delivery of key projects,” she said.

Metro’s Sammie Black said: “We have received notification of industrial action. We believe it is unnecessary on the basis that we have been bargaining in good faith and continue to do so.”

Ms Black said Metro had contingency plans in place to minimise impacts.

Jacinta Allan, the Minister for Public Transport, said the industrial action was “extremely disappointing and completely unnecessary”.

“Parties need to lock themselves in a room and sort this out, so we can keep removing level crossings, reducing congestion and saving lives,” Ms Allan said.

Spokespeople for the Electrical Trades Union and Professionals Australia were contacted for comment.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.