The John Cain government elected for a third term in 1988 with a narrow majority, was in a budgetary crisis. Cain Government wanted to save $24 Million a year by introducing a new Met Ticket System for the public transport. The new ticketing system was supposed to save money by cutting 550 ticket conductor jobs and 550 train station staff.
Naturally workers protested. Trams taken to Preston workshop to be converted to driver only operation were met with protests and non-co-operation from workers. The management hired private contractors to do the work. Workers responded by sabotage and stopped the converted trams moving out of the workshop. Trams started running free for commuters and Government planned to introduce contract conductors to the industry, which was thwarted when regular employees refused to work with contractors. The result – the contract connies never saw the inside of a passenger filled tram. The tension was building up.
When tram workers began operating unauthorised services after taking trams from depots, Public Transport Corporation hoped to prevent that happening by turning off the power grid. On January 1, 1990, after a rumour spread, workers were to be locked out of the depots, drivers took 250 trams out on the streets and parked them in Melbourne’s CBD in protest. Minister for Transport Jim Kennan declared that Government is prepared to sit out the strike and let the trams stay in the city, until the tramways union agreed to talk about phasing out tram conductor jobs.
For 33 days, 250 trams lay idle in the city’s streets after the government shut down power to the grid. The Tram drivers and conductors occupied the stranded vehicles to prevent them being moved by the government during negotiations between the union and the government. This was one of the longest strike actions the State of Victoria has ever experienced.
Two men were arrested after allegedly trying to weld an iron bar to the tracks which would have derailed a moving tram and this incident escalated the dispute. The strike ended when 1500 transport unionists voted on 2nd February 1990 to accept driver only trams, but all conductors kept their jobs. A 35-point agreement was signed between The Government, The public Transport Corporation, Victorian Trades Hall Council and the Australian Tramway and Motor Omnibus Employees.
Eventually, Kennett government got rid the city of tram conductors in May 1998. The Met System was a big failure and it took years to perfect it. It was a big blunder in first place to go for the Met Ticketing System, as countries like Singapore were running ticketing systems similar to today’s Myki years before.