About 400 bus drivers rallied in Martin Place on April 11 as part of a 24 hour strike over pay and conditions. After the rally, they marched along Macquarie Street chanting “Same job, same pay!”
The Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) — the two main unions covering the bus industry — are standing together to demand industry-wide standards for those doing the same job.
The unions reported that 2000 drivers working for companies servicing Sydney, Newcastle, the Hunter, Central Coast and Blue Mountains, took part in the stoppage. Private companies operate all of Sydney’s regular bus services after the government decided in 2019 to privatise contracts for the last remaining regions.
The TWU and the RTBU are attempting to get a new wages agreement with Transit Systems, ComfortDelGro and Transdev.
TWU New South Wales secretary Richard Olsen said he could not rule out further action unless better conditions are agreed to: “We may have to do this again — that will be up to our membership to decide.”
Olsen called on the NSW government to come back and negotiate, saying it has “obligations to the workforce”. He said the current system does not provide enough support.
“The NSW government controls the purse strings. Through the contracts they award to private operators … [it] must take responsibility and control to enforce a list of industry standards that will ensure fairer pay and conditions and improved health and safety across the bus industry.”
Olsen said bus drivers are worried about their safety at work and the safety of their passengers because the government has not provided adequate training. The union is demanding action to reduce the violence against bus drivers and manage fatigue.
“Bus drivers cannot find toilets or adequate places to have a proper fatigue break away from their buses,” Olsen said. “Drivers are expected to ‘hold on’ because toilet facilities are either closed or non-existent. Bus drivers face abuse, violence and have very little support for their own or passenger safety.”
The unions want transport minister David Elliot to take responsibility. “Drivers are driving buses owned by the NSW government, the bus routes and the bus stops are set by the NSW government, yet the government claims no responsibility for safety and conditions for workers who operate the buses,” Olsen said.
David Babineau, Tram and Bus division secretary of the RTBU NSW, said its region drivers joined the strike actions to protest being paid different amounts for the same work.
“We can’t sit back and let the NSW government create situations where you have workers doing exactly the same job on different rates of pay and conditions,” he said.
The inequality in pay for drivers was created when the former public urban bus network was privatisated by the NSW government. Pressure from the RTBU forced private bus company Transit Systems to maintain existing drivers on their current award, however new drivers were hired on inferior pay and conditions.
New drivers were only able to join the TWU, which traditionally covers bus drivers in the private sector outside the public urban transit network. This division between old and new employees created an artificial division between members of the two unions in the same workplace.
The RTBU’s support of the TWU drivers shows that both unions reject the employer-government effort to divide and rule, knowing that unequal pay and conditions in one industry is an attempt to create disunity and undermine militancy.