When in doubt, blame the driver: the scapegoating of Patrick Fernandez

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Danger signals. A red traffic light means stop and wait for green, but not on the railway! Many travellers died before signalling regulations were imposed. The idea was that only one train could be in one section of track at one time. Not in Australia! Although there are stop signals, drivers are authorised to pass many of them. Inevitably, this leads to accidents.

The conviction of Melbourne train driver, Patrick Fernandez, for “contributing” to a collision sends a clear message to employers in the privatised Victorian rail network: relax, you’re off the hook! The WorkCover Authority selectively prosecuted an employee, ignoring the employer’s guilt — a legacy from decades of the political corruption of safety processes. The driver was targeted because adverse legal decisions against the employer, Connex, would push its finances permanently into the red. If the company went under, the government would be pressured to re-nationalise its operations — something the neoliberal Bracks ALP machine wanted to avoid at all costs. Ironic, given that National Express recently walked away from its franchise! Meanwhile the network awaits the inevitable disaster.

Tens of millions of safe journeys are made on the system each year, thanks to the professional diligence of drivers, signallers, and station staff. Yet the system is intrinsically unsafe. Emergency braking systems do not operate, even if the driver is unconscious. Operating regulations cause crashes — aided by managers interested only in the bottom line.

Not Guilty. Workers operating the system are experts in safety: they should manage the system jointly with workers who travel on the system. Re-nationalise public transport — with elected worker-managers. Fund the replacement of nineteenth century infrastructure with genuine “safeworking” systems. Meanwhile, demand that the Bracks Government quash Pat’s conviction — he is not responsible for the negligence of his boss.

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