Bus drivers won’t rule out further strikes

The bus drivers’ union isn’t ruling out further strike action after a meeting with Torrens Transit on Tuesday, saying there was “very little movement” in negotiations.

Jan 11, 2023, updated Jan 11, 2023
Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

Officials from the Transport Workers Union (TWU), bus operator Torrens Transit and the Department for Infrastructure and Transport were locked in talks for more than six hours yesterday as the union pressed its demands for better pay and conditions in Torrens Transit’s next enterprise bargaining agreement.

The three parties have scheduled another meeting for next Monday.

TWU SA branch secretary Ian Smith said “a little bit of backpay was put on the table” by Torrens Transit but there was still “very little movement” in negotiations with the company.

He said Torrens Transit was put on “complete notice” that they have to come back with a “genuine offer” by Monday.

Asked by InDaily whether the union was weighing up strike action when schools return on January 30, Smith said: “Anything’s possible.

“Our members will make that decision – if negotiations don’t go [our] way I can’t rule that out, I can’t rule anything out,” he said.

The TWU is asking Torrens Transit to pay bus drivers more than $32 per hour. According to Torrens Transit, the current hourly rate is $28.58, although the TWU has claimed the average wage for some new drivers is as low as $25.70 per hour.

A 14 per cent increase from $28.58 to $32.58 an hour is higher than Torrens Transit’s current offer of 5.75 per cent and a 0.25 per cent superannuation increase.

It’s understood Torrens Transit’s current offer has not changed at this stage. A company spokesperson said after the meeting: “We hope to resolve the situation with a workable solution.”

Transport Department CEO Jon Whelan was more upbeat about averting further strike action, describing Tuesday’s talks as “really robust and healthy discussions”.

“I saw a level of negotiation and engagement by both parties that could lead us to a very positive outcome, but we need to wait till Monday when the parties get back together,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

But he noted that the union “still want to take some action around what their next steps are”.

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“The [chief executive] of Torrens Transit will be present [at next Monday’s meeting], and we’ll be able to hopefully see an offer put to the bus drivers and the union by Torrens Transit to enable … for public transport, the buses, to proceed without any further action.

“Whilst the union have put their demands on the table, Torrens Transit have to be given the ability to come back to the union – that’ll occur Monday.

“We believe that if both parties are collaborative, we can avoid any further action.”

According to Whelan, it was the first time the Department was present at the negotiating table with Torrens Transit and the TWU. Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis later told ABC Radio that he instructed Department officials to attend to check that Torrens Transit was “acting like a good corporate citizen” and “everyone is actually negotiating”.

Whelan said the Department would hold a roundtable with the union, Torrens Transit and other Adelaide bus companies to select a new full driver safety screen to be rolled out across the whole metropolitan bus network.

Currently, Whelan said, all government-owned buses have a three quarter safety screen installed.

“What we want to do is get the union together with the prototypes and select one that is satisfactory for the drivers and to improve their safety,” Whelan said.

“Then we’ll put that proposal for a rollout over the next two to three years.”

TWU secretary Smith said: “The discussion around safety was promising, extremely promising, so we thank them for that part.”

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