Sydney bus drivers walked out on May 18 in a 24-hour strike against plans by the NSW Coalition government to privatise public bus services in the city’s inner-west.
The action, which defied the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC), affected four bus depots: Leichhardt, Burwood, Kingsgrove and Tempe.
The Rail Tram and Bus Union of NSW (RTBU) issued an open letter to commuters saying in part: “Sadly, we cannot commit to you that this will be the last disruption you will face over the coming months. If the premier does not intervene as a matter of urgency this will, indeed, be Sydney’s winter of discontent.”
RTBU Bus Division secretary Chris Preston said the government’s May 15 decision to privatise bus services would slash routes, close bus stops and cost the jobs of 1200 public transport workers. He said it would lead to “rolling closures of bus services and bus stops for commuters across inner-western Sydney”.
“We oppose privatisation because we know, at the end of the day, it’s the commuters who’ll pay. Private bus operators put profits before the public. To make money, they’ll slash services and cut back on maintenance. We’ve seen it happen before.”
Preston said there had been no consultation with bus drivers or the community about the decision. As recently as December, the State Transit Authority told all public transport workers that their jobs were safe for the next five years.
“If the government cannot be trusted to keep its promises not to privatise bus services, what can it be trusted on? There should be no doubt the government now intends to privatise all public transport across NSW.”
Labor’s transport spokesperson Jodi McKay said on May 15 she feared the Coalition was planning the wholesale sell-off of Sydney’s transport network, but stopped short of saying what Labor was doing to fight it.
NSW Greens MP and transport spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi slammed the sell-off plan saying the Coalition government has “an addiction to privatisation”.
“The NSW Liberals and Nationals are desperate to sell off all publicly owned and operated transport services … The strategy is to run down public transport services, attack the workforce and use that as a pretext for washing their hands of the matter.
“Public transport is not a luxury or a commodity. It is a basic and essential need that provides mobility and connects our communities and people to their jobs, education and healthcare.”
Faruqi pointed to Melbourne’s privately-run transportation system to show the scale of the disaster. “When the only motivation is profit, you see the loss of routes, less services, [all of] which disproportionately affects vulnerable people who rely on it, like the elderly and the unemployed.”