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RTBU COVID-19 update

Apr 6, 2020COVID19

It’s been another extraordinary week as the COVID-19 crisis continues. On Monday night, the NSW Government quietly passed into law a new suite of restrictive conditions on free movement designed to slow the spread of the virus. There have been some promising numbers this week with drops in the rate of new infections. There’s a long way to go and let’s hope it continues to fall.

Unions win on wage subsidy

On Monday, after the union movement campaigned relentlessly for the duration of the crisis to date, the Federal Government announced a $130 billion package to ensure that workers who lose their jobs during this crisis will receive up to $1,500 per fortnight. This payment will be paid to the workers’ employer so that they maintain the employment relationship. Unfortunately this package does not include casuals with less than 12 months service making the package incomplete and only applies to employers that lose a certain amount of revenue as a result of the crisis. However, this is a great start and the unions will keep campaigning to ensure that no worker is left behind.

No stand-downs

Another piece of good news for RTBU members was also confirmed this week. Transport for NSW have confirmed that in the event of a shutdown, there will be no stand downs like what we have seen at big companies like Qantas and Myer, and all government sector transport workers will continue to be paid as special leave which includes Sydney Trains, NSW Trains, Transport for NSW and State Transit Authority.

Special leave

We are regularly being asked about special leave and what it entails. There is still confusion about the rate that special leave is paid at. At one meeting we are told it is paid the same as sick leave and then at the next we are told base rate. We have asked that the Government get their ducks in a row and tell us with certainty what the rate for special leave is. Nevertheless, this week we have been able to confirm the following:

  • If you are on annual leave, and you are required to isolate, you are able to convert the time that you are isolated to special leave and be re-credited the annual leave.
  • Vulnerable workers, such as those with pre-existing medical conditions (a list can be found here https://www.stayinformed.com.au/medical-conditions) or those over 70 years old are being encouraged to stay home and are eligible for 20 days special leave.

The RTBU sought that the 20 days leave be extended to indefinite to ensure that vulnerable workers are not disadvantaged. Transport for NSW has now confirmed that, subject to appropriate evidence being provided, vulnerable workers are able to access uncapped special leave. 

Further to this, Transport has confirmed that public sector transport employers will put on hold any processes where it has been proposed that workers will be made redundant. This is important in such uncertain economic times. The RTBU continues to push for a change in the way that all employers deal with disciplinary issues during the crisis and to show compassion to members who are already anxious of the current situation.

Essential services

The RTBU has ramped up its pressure on Transport to provide an answer about the status of members as “essential services”.

Members need to understand that under under the Essential Services Act 1988 the Governor of NSW can proclaim transport as an essential service. This proclamation gives the Government extraordinary powers to direct workers to perform certain tasks and carries with it harsh penalties if any instructions are not complied with. If this drastic step is taken, we will ensure that members have all the facts before them to avoid getting into trouble.

This week, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) made changes to the Rail Industry Award 2010 and the Passenger Vehicle Transportation Award 2010. The FWC inserted new temporary entitlements into the awards to deal with some common issues encountered as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The entitlements are:

  • Unpaid pandemic leave – 2 weeks
  • The ability to take annual leave at half pay

Most of our members are covered by enterprise agreements which override the Award. If you need further information about this, please don’t hesitate to contact the RTBU office. 

Area specific updates

The RTBU is in constant contact with all employers; however, naturally, some are more forthcoming with information than others. Below is an overview of some specific updates from various areas of our membership. 

If you have specific questions about your area, please don’t hesitate to contact your local delegate. 

Train Crew

Members in train crew at Sydney Trains have secured a commitment that specific COVID-19 turnaround cleaning would take place in all cabs from Monday starting with 5 locations:

  • Leppington
  • Macarthur
  • Hornsby
  • Lidcombe
  • Bondi Junction

This is to ensure that the workspaces of our drivers and guards are as hygienic and safe as possible. There will be four more locations announced at a later date. A special thanks to those cleaners for doing this additional work to help keep all workers safe. 

A two person limit has been placed on training taking place in cabs. There will be ongoing weekly HSR audits conducted for Sydney Trains facilities.

Sydney Trains have also reopened the recently closed meal room in TCAC to enable members to better practice physical distancing. 

NSW Trains are still yet to have any sort of meaningful engagement with the RTBU about minimising and protecting members against the impact of COVID-19. 


We are in regular contact with most Freight Operators to discuss how the various companies are dealing with COVID-19. Specific member newsflashes are being issued as new information and detail comes to light. The level of engagement with Freight Operators varies and needs to improve. Members should contact their organiser for information on where exactly your company is up to.


We reported last week that Sydney Trains was standing by their customer service charter despite the escalating health crisis and the physical distancing rules.

This week, Sydney Trains have advised all station staff that they are now allowed to use garrisons and control rooms in order to ensure that they are safe from transmission of the virus when they are performing their duties.

Fleet Maintenance

Sydney Trains have started weekly update meetings for COVID-19 related issues for cleaners. This is to run adjacent to the existing HSR meetings that have been occurring weekly for the past few weeks. There are still outstanding issues around the conditions that cleaners enter trains to clean them. The RTBU has been asking that the trains are “misted” or “fogged” before cleaners enter to perform their duties. To date, Sydney Trains continue to deny this additional safety precaution.


Sydney Trains engineering maintenance division have committed to deferring all non-critical training during the COVID-19 crisis. This is a sensible move by Sydney Trains given the physical distancing requirements currently in place.

Infrastructure members at Sydney Trains are often being asked to work from other locations during the crisis, and as a result are seeking the start and finish allowance. 

At ARTC, contractors were being brought into the Narrabri depot from Tamworth and Inverell who were working in the same space as local employees and utilising company equipment. Our members have raised this concerns and managed to stop this practice due to the danger of spreading the virus. ARTC is also considering changing rosters to enable members to better physically distance.

At Infraworks, there was an issue with Infraworks in providingsick leave for a member who had to self-isolate. However when the RTBU contacted the company, it agreed that it was appropriate to pay the member sick leave for the period. We trust the company will apply this policy across its whole business. 

Tram and Bus

For the Canberra Metro, members have been provided with comprehensive PPE to do their jobs, including masks, glasses, wipes, sanitisers, and gloves. They have also introduced different sign on requirements to ensure that each shift is separated.

The RTBU has been having discussions with the bus operators, being STA, Keolis Downer, and Transit Systems, in an attempt to enforce more stringent physical distancing for passengers on buses. However, we are still waiting on Transport for NSW to see the merits of this proposal. 

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