Bus drivers fight for full-time work

July 31, 2010
The Transport Workers Union and the Workers Solidarity Network are fighting a proposal that would undermine bus drivers’ right

Canberra’s bus service, Action, is trying to impose a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) on bus drivers to undermine their rights at work.

Under the current EBA, 40% of Canberra’s bus drivers are part-time and have to wait four years until they can get full-time work. If the part-time to full-time ratio that Action wants is implemented, workers will have to wait seven to eight years for a full-time job.

“We’re fighting to protect bus driving as a profession”, one bus driver said.

The proposed EBA also includes a pay rise lower than inflation. The Transport Workers Union and a new group called the Workers Solidarity Network (WSN) are fighting the agreement.

To protest the EBA bus drivers tried a seven-day ban on collecting fares in late May. However, the ban was hampered by the federal Labor government’s Fair Work Act; viewed by many unionists as “WorkChoices lite”.

The ban was called off after management threatened to dock workers pay between 50% and 150%.

Much of the local media has run a smear campaign against the drivers. A May 23 Sunday Canberra Times article falsely claimed bus drivers earned more than doctors.

The WSN made a flyer to counter these lies and circulated a petition to gauge community support — collecting more than 1000 signatures and raising the morale of drivers.

Bus drivers held a strike and rally outside the ACT Legislative Assembly on June 25.

The campaign has already won a victory for drivers: a 15-minute break every three hours, in line with National Heavy Vehicle Driving Guidelines.

Previously, drivers were allowed only a four-minute break. This meant, after unloading and securing the bus and checking for lost property, they did not have enough time to go to the toilet.

An independent report carried out for the ACT Legislative Assembly claims Action blows more than 30% of its $100 million annual budget on waste and inefficiency. Undermining the rights of bus drivers is part of Action’s plan to curb this “inefficiency”.

A 2007 University of Melbourne study noted the underdevelopment of public transport in Canberra. For a whopping $4 bus fare, passengers pay for a service that is insufficiently resourced to meet their needs. Much more money needs to be invested into public transport in Canberra. Attacking workers’ rights is no solution.

[To get involved in the Workers Solidarity Network contact wsncampaigns@gmail.com.]

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