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RTBU: Latest COVID-19 update

May 23, 2020COVID19 News

This week was touch and go with an expected influx of commuters onto the Sydney Transport Network. This premonition turned out to be a folly, although there has been a steady increase in patronage – up around 3%. Next week will likely be the flash point with schools going back full-time which will likely have a knock on effect  on the rest of the workforce.

The rest of the state continues to return to normal, with restrictions being lifted in a very quick fashion. Earlier in the week, the Government announced that regional holidays were to be allowed from 1 June, and on Friday it was announced that 50 people would be once again able to congregate in pubs!

Nevertheless, it’s important that we remember wherever you may be across NSW that COVID-19 is still a real and present threat to our health safety at work. Stay alert and make sure your boss is doing the right thing by you and your workmates.

Many members would have seen green stickers appearing on the seats of our trains and buses this week. The stickers are designed to tell commuters where to sit and stand to ensure physical distancing. Although the strategy behind the stickers and their effectiveness in influencing commuter behaviour is questionable, anything that can be done to encourage social distancing is a good thing. However, members were somewhat blindsided by the rollout of these stickers with no notice or consultation before the commencement of this system.

Over the past few weeks, our colleagues across the southern border had their say on a number of COVID-19 issues. The results of the survey indicated that the most important issues are:

  • Ensuring ongoing physical distancing among members and the general public (including physical barriers, limits on passenger numbers, etc.);
  • Ongoing cleaning with an emphasis on a need for a boosted ongoing cleaning regime
  • Guaranteed availability of PPE (including face masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitiser);
  • Clarification and retention of current policies (including ticket and cash handling, modified working arrangements, etc.);
  • Better education and clear policies regarding best practice hygiene and social distancing for commuters and all across the network.

If you think there are extra items that apply specifically to us up here in NSW, make sure you let your delegate know.

We should all be proud of everything we’ve done throughout this crisis. Transport workers – from trains, to buses, to freight, to trams – have kept our society moving throughout an utterly unprecedented time. Many of us may not have received the kudos you deserve, but let it be known that your efforts will not be forgotten.

Train Crew

At Sydney Trains this week, Train Crew expressed their disappointment in the lack of notice given to them in relation to the green stickers appearing on each and every train. Notice of the stickers was not given to Train Crew until 4.37am on the morning of their introduction – clearly not enough time for anyone to raise concerns with their rollout or to prepare for the inevitable customer queries arising from this new system of seating.

NSW Trains continued to be a substandard operator and employer by continually failing to engage with the RTBU on COVID-19 issues, whilst at the same time working studiously to introduce the dangerous new intercity fleet that will destroy jobs and put passenger safety at risk. To add insult to injury, NSW Trains sent out an update worthy of George Orwell’s 1984, spruiking their proposal for in-cab cameras. Of course Train Crew won’t accept this blatant invasion of privacy. It is apparent that NSW Trains doesn’t understand how serious their attack on our rights is.


Sydney Trains cleaners are now required to place stickers on trains to indicate where customers are to stand and sit and to comply with physical distancing guidelines. We are pleased to advise that Sydney Trains is offering this work to in-house cleaners. However, there was an issue with overtime restrictions set at 16 hours. Many members are already at this threshold due to the other additional cleaning work e.g. touch-point cleaning. Nevertheless, Delegates have negotiated for Sydney Trains to lift this restriction temporarily. Due to this our members will be able to perform these additional duties as overtime for up to 24 hours per fortnight rather than the 16 hours.


Sydney Trains met with infrastructure HSR & WHS Committee on 14 May. All participants were happy with the controls that have been put in place to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. It is heartening to see everyone working together for a safe workplace, and it is hoped that this continues well after this pandemic. The committee has now shifted to fortnightly meetings, with the next meeting occurring on 28 May.

Sydney Trains Infrastructure Division members raised an issue this week relating to one team in the South West being asked to cross staff boundaries and work alongside crew from other teams. Often these directions were given by management just as teams commenced their duties.  Members have raised concerns that this is a risk to their health and safety as restrictions remain in place. If you experience something similar, be sure to tell your delegate immediately.

At ARTC, work groups continue to remain separated around the depots. Management has released a survey asking workers how safe they feel during the pandemic to allow workers to have input into how the situation has been managed and what improvements can be made. This move by ARTC has been generally well received by members. 

At John Holland, things are starting to return back to pre COVID-19 times. Some office staff have started to return from working from home and physical distancing signs and hygiene requirements in meal room have been introduced to remind workers returning to continue to take care. There has also been extra cleaning introduced.

At Metro Trains, we learnt this week that the COVID-19 tracker used by the company has recorded zero incidences of infection on the Chatswood to Tullawong line. Management also reported that they had at this time experienced no COVID related issues with frontline staff. Metro Trains will be applying the green stickers on floors and seats along with signage on protection barriers. Members have raised concerns that MTS pool vehicles have not been cleaned regularly. Management advised that the pool vehicles are being cleaned daily with all other vehicles on hand over.

Station Staff

At Sydney Trains, members on the stations will have noticed new posters and stickers have appeared around the network promoting physical distancing while using the network, and especially while on stations. Despite these constant reminders, Sydney Trains has categorically stated that it is not the responsibility of staff to enforce these measures and the posters and stickers are for the purpose of educating passengers.

Sydney and NSW Trains members raised concerns about the Transport Minister and Premier’s comments during a press conference about the potential closure of stations. Management have advised delegates that no stations are closing and that all stations are running as per normal.

Around 600 additional contract security guards have been deployed around the Sydney Trains network on stations. It is still unclear what role these security guards are performing on the network given that they are stationed on the platform and concourse. Sydney Trains have undertaken to come back with more information next week.

Disappointingly NSW Trains did not meet with your station delegates again this week. This is becoming a worrying trend. However we were able to have some delegates participate in the HSR meeting held on Friday. From that meeting, we can give the following updates:

  • There have been no cases of COVID-19 infections in NSW Trains.
  • Extra cleaning has been rolled out to ensure that supplementary buses around the network are safe and hygienic.
  • There have been concerns around the supplementary buses being over crowded. Some buses have taken up to 30 passengers.
  • PPE is in good supply which includes sanitiser, gloves, masks and cleaning products.
  • NSW Trains considering implementing temperature checks similar the Rail Operations Centre.

At Metro Trains, Decal stickers similar to Sydney and NSW Trains are being rolled out across the Metro Network. These stickers will be on the stations and trains. Management have also advised that there haven’t been many issues raised by frontline staff around COVID-19. Although this may be true remember that if you have any concerns, questions or issues please contact your organiser

Salaried and Administration

Transport for NSW reiterated this week their commitment to keeping office staff working from home. This is in an effort to ensure the public transport network is not overloaded and physical distancing can be maintained.

Outside of the public sector, employers continue to be encouraged to keep their employees at home where reasonably practicable.

Tram and Bus

This week, the Tram and Bus division continued to push for masks to protect drivers coming into contact with the public. This is becoming more important as patronage, and therefore risk of exposure on the network, increases. You can read an article about this continued push here.

Divisional Secretary, David Babineau was in the media this week responding to the rushed policy decision of placing stickers on the floor and on seats. After conflicting advice from Transport and the Government, David spoke to the media about drivers being caught in the middle. 

Finally, Branch Secretary, Alex Claassens spoke on radio this week about the stickers and the decision to privatise Sydney’s buses. Listen to the interview here (Alex starts at 2.24min mark).

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