25 May 2023

Transport Canberra bus drivers accept pay rise, reject 'tokenistic' offer to increase weekend work

| Claire Fenwicke
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bus passing empty bus stop

Bus drivers voted to accept a new pay deal as part of their enterprise bargaining agreement but rejected what was offered for weekend shifts. Photo: Transport Canberra Facebook.

The ACT Government won’t be able to organise extra weekend bus services anytime soon, with union drivers rejecting its offer to get more vehicles on the streets.

Transport Canberra bus drivers who are with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) voted on the ACT Government’s latest enterprise bargaining agreement on Thursday (25 May), which led to a suspension of bus services during the middle of the day.

The vote followed nearly a year’s worth of negotiations.

There were essentially two arms to what was put forward – a pay offer and a weekend package to boost weekend services.

The ACT Government originally reduced weekend services in 2019 because of the continued cancellation of buses due to a lack of available drivers.

TWU ACT sub-branch secretary Klaus Pinkus explained that most members voted yes to the pay deal, a 13.13 per cent increase over three years.

“It’s a complicated structure, but it was a combination of a dollar increase to the base rate and percentage increases as well to give lower paid drivers a greater increase,” he said.

The deal has resulted in a $1750 increase to the base rate, backdated to January of this year, with a one-off payment of $1250 (with casuals to receive their payment on a pro-rata basis).

This would increase the base salary (excluding superannuation) from $82,733 per annum, or $41.72 per hour, as of June 2022, to $93,592 per annum or $47.21 per hour by December 2025.

For those part of the superannuation scheme, a 0.5 per cent increase would kick in in 2025 with another increase of 0.25 per cent in 2026.

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However, the offer around increasing weekend services was pushed back.

The government offered a two-year trial where all weekend work, once someone had worked 12 weekend days during the year, would attract a 15 per cent penalty.

It also proposed a new part-time weekend category, where ordinary hours would be limited to weekend work only and to a maximum of 15 shifts per depot. These shifts wouldn’t start before 12 pm, and part-time workers would have access to annual and personal leave on a pro-rata basis.

Transport Minister Chris Steel said these provisions were put forward to provide better incentives for drivers to work on the weekend.

“[The new ‘weekend worker’ classification] would have provided opportunities for new drivers and existing casual bus drivers to become permanent on the weekends, with more certainty of shifts and better entitlements including annual and personal leave,” he said.

However, Mr Pinkus described the government’s offer to boost the number of weekend drivers as “tokenistic”.

“If you pay them more, they will come,” he said.

Mr Pinkus explained there currently weren’t enough bus drivers rostered on during the week, which meant those currently employed were doing too much overtime to qualify for weekend work. The union felt even more needed to be offered to attract more drivers.

Mr Steel said work on this agreement had been proactive and positive, and the decisions from today would have no additional impacts on services, with the usual timetable to restart tomorrow (26 May).

“I am committed to continuing to work with our drivers on the next steps to pave the way for more frequent and reliable bus services for Canberrans in the future,” he said.

“This includes the recruitment of additional staff, which kicks off on the 29th of May next week.”

Seven new bus drivers graduated their training program today, with six more completing their training earlier this month.

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The union meeting wasn’t solely devoted to voting on the enterprise bargaining agreement. Occupational violence was also high on the agenda and took up more than half of the meeting.

Mr Pinkus said bus drivers were being assaulted, spat on, sexually harassed and racially abused on a “daily basis”.

“Bus drivers are right up there as an occupation copping occupational violence,” he said.

Policies are currently in place to combat this, such as workplace violence protection orders and banning abusive passengers.

Screens have also been suggested to protect drivers, but opinions around those are mixed.

Mr Pinkus said the union wanted to see more enforcement when it came to protecting drivers from violence.

“The tools are there, so let’s use them,” he said.

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This is a little bit unfair for the Riotact to report that we voted down EXTRA weekend shifts making it seem like we vetoed an increase in work when in reality the allocation for this new role was coming out of EXISTING weekend shifts. Very poor reporting and very poor form. Also from some in the peanut gallery below who seem to know all the info when they weren’t even there

GrumpyGrandpa5:41 pm 26 May 23

Quoting Award Rates of $28 is very misleading.

One of my family members was an Action Bus Driver and they were paid on a “composite rate”. IE they received the same hourly rate regardless of whether they were working at 5:30am, 1pm or 1am. Prior to the “composite rate”, they were paid the base Award Rate, plus Penalty Rates, for portions of their shifts that started or finished outside of ordinary working hours.
The “composite rate” was an initiative of the ACT Government, to simplify their payroll processes and reduce costs.

Where we do agree is this agreement hasn’t done a thing to address TC’s hopeless Weekend Service.

The TWU’s Klaus Pinkus raised an interesting point when he said that over half of the meeting was spent discussing driver assaults and safety issues.
We keep hearing from the Government about their bus driver recruitment but despite all this recruitment, nothing changes. Is the problem that TC can’t retain its staff?

The Government told us the trade off for removing 750 bus stops, making many journeys slower and stripping routes from the outer suburbs was that they would provide extra bus services on evenings and extra buses on weekends. Remember how they constantly advertised “more buses, more often”. .

Pity they didn’t actually get the bus drivers on board before they ruined bus travel for so many Canberra households. Based on this story it looks like nothing is going to change for poorly serviced commuters.

The governing agreement between Labor and Greens for this term of the Assembly lists several policy points they agreed to work towards. These include this point from the Greens “Improve bus services and aim for hourly weekend services”. Sounds like the Greens have rolled over for a belly-rub from Labor and the TWU.

Bus drivers contribute an essential public service and most are excellent at their role. However the Award wage is $28hr, the Australian average is $32-35, so surely it is unreasonable to reach $47, 30% more – and continue to use Union power to block the provision of a decent weekend arrangement! Action bus drivers are supposed to drive weekends to earn their higher pay (the ‘composite’ rate) and yet they are always advertising for casuals to cover weekends. It’s hard to tell if it is the Union or the ACT Government or both which most stand in the way of providing a decent bus service, meanwhile the drivers are the highest paid in the country.

Capital Retro5:45 pm 25 May 23

What’s the point in going to university for 4 years to get a piece of paper and getting into huge fee debt then wait years to get a job equaling what the bus drivers are getting?

Its not far off the starting salary for a paramedic in Canberra, after they have done a three year $25k degree. Amazing. And still the bus union (and drivers) have the hide to block weekend service improvements ideas.

And it also looks like an AFP police officer would only get that kind of salary after 12 years in the force, if I’m reading their Agreement properly.

ibeeneverywhere1:33 am 26 May 23

And…? Are you suggesting that bus drivers should be paid less because of this?

If this salary is appealing to you then please apply in the next round. We could use a few more drivers.
As a part time driver we are only guaranteed a certain number of hours per week so we have to try and get extra hours (if it fits in with our current shift and ensure we stay within our driving hour limits). What they say here and what we actually earn are very different.

As a driver for Transport Canberra you will see the best and the worst of Canberrans, get to sit in endless delays because of construction of a trainset, get abused, beaten and spat on a regular basis. Generally it is OK, but you have those days sometimes.

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