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RTBU: Latest COVID-19 update

May 31, 2020COVID19 News

This week was crunch time on the public transport network across the state with schools going back full-time. Although there was an increase in patronage, it wasn’t as drastic as many expected. There was clearly still community caution from NSW parents toward putting their kids onto trains and buses, with many members reporting congestion on the roads around schools during pick up and drop off times. There is another challenge approaching though – pubs and clubs will be opening in a more significant way starting from Monday next week and the usual challenge that brings, combined with COVID restrictions, is sure to be an interesting mix.

On Friday, Transport for NSW informed us that patronage numbers were up as follows:

  • Buses – 18%
  • Light rail – 33%
  • Metropolitan Trains – 21%
  • Trainlink – 9%
  • Road usage –  8%

Patronage across NSW is back up to 60% of pre-COVID passenger numbers. The lowest it reached during the pandemic was 10%.

To try and cope with increased demand and at the same time abide by physical distancing guidelines, Transport for NSW is considering adding extra services to the shoulder periods around the peak. This is likely to come into effect early next week with Sydney Trains already making preparations for such a move.

Transport for NSW, in an effort to alleviate members’ fears about enforcing physical distancing requirements, has rolled out hundreds of “marshals” across on railway stations and key interchanges. We have been advised that at the current time there are 20 teams comprising of two transport officers, two security officers, and one marshal. These teams are designed to ensure that no issues arise on our network and that members do not feel the need to police the guidelines. There are also additional teams available to rapidly respond to problems as they arise. If you need a rapid response or have any other enquiry, call 133 877.

In a devastating blow for many frontline workers who have carried society through the COVID-19 pandemic and the bushfire crisis, the NSW Government announced this week that it would move forward with an effective pay cut for those very same workers. Included in those who will suffer a cut in real terms to their pay are bus drivers, nurses, doctors, firefighters, police, paramedics, aged care workers, and public servants.  Some of our members are fortunate in that they recently received a pay rise under their enterprise agreements.

But there is no economic rationale for a pay cut at this time. Make no mistake; this is a money grabbing exercise by a Government with no respect for frontline workers – so spare a thought for those who currently under attack. The RTBU will be actively joining with other unions to fight against the wage freeze. We simply won’t stand by and let workers wages and conditions be attacked by the Berejiklian Government. 

Tram and Bus Division

In the continuing process of installing safety screens on buses, we are told that risk assessments at STA are being finalised in the next couple of weeks. This will provide an important safety control for bus drivers who come into regular contact with the public. After these assessments are complete, they should be able to be installed.

At Transit Systems, there are already 20 screens installed. The company has provided Transport for NSW with a business case for the installation of screens on 570 buses which we were told today has been signed off by TfNSW.

In an amazing show of solidarity, bus members have been the recipients of homemade masks from members of the public. So far the NSW Government has failed to step up and provide bus drivers with masks. It is so good to see the level of support for these frontline workers.

Salaried and Admin Division

Transport for NSW also informed us that it was beginning the plan for a staggered return to the workplace for it and across its agencies. Among the measures it plans to have in place are:

  • Regular cleaning of desks and offices;
  • A sign indicating that a desk has been cleaned;
  • Fixing desk space where possible.

Transport reiterated the need to take into account how members get to work so as to not add to the demand on public transport and to protect staff.

Train Crew

Sydney Trains this week confirmed that it would be rolling out hygiene kits for spitting and coughing incidents to guards across the network. This follows the union calling for kits to be provided to all frontline staff that are exposed to such vile behaviour. Although the outcome is not everything that we wanted, it is a great start and provides the ability for members to immediately respond when exposed to such disgusting and dangerous actions.

NSW Trains is still failing to engage in any meaningful way with the union and its members through these uncertain times. As recently as last weekend there were reports that NSW Trains is continuing to cram three workers into a crew cab, putting their health at risk, merely to ensure that their organisational goals are met. It truly is disgraceful.

Recently a member provided this humourous anecdote:

Police have issued a missing persons notice for NSW Trains management during the COVID-19 crisis.

To be serious though, the lack of engagement by NSW Trains is unfortunately typical of this agency in recent times. It’s time that the Government steps in and intervenes to set NSW Trains straight.

Infrastructure

At Sydney Trains last week, following delegates concerns regarding the blending of teams while still in the yellow phase of the COVID-19 recovery period, a Work Health and Safety meeting was held recognising the seriousness of the issues raised. These issues included:

  • Workers getting transferred between worksites – this was not consistent with the yellow phase;
  • Planning for the move to the green phase which is continuing as workers slowly come back to normal working conditions. There is no timeline for a move to the green phase. Any move will be implemented in line with health advice;
  • Reviews of all meal and meeting rooms for the move to the green phase;
  • Rostering arrangements at the Hub to phase workers back to pre-COVID arrangements.

There continues to be ongoing welfare support provided where necessary for those working during the pandemic and also for those who remain away from the workplace. 

Delegates made enquiries this week for those on special leave who are looking to return to the workplace soon. Sydney Trains responded as follows:

  • There are a number of ‘at risk’ employees currently on special leave due to age risk or specified medical conditions;
  • There is uncapped leave for employees over 70 years of age;
  • For all other ‘at risk’ employees where special leave has been approved for 20 days and that period has expired, approval needs to be sought for a further extension of up to 20 days. 

We encourage those who are ‘at risk’ to remain at home where possible.  In the event that you want to return to work, you should have a conversation with your manager.

HSRs also want to remind everyone that drug and alcohol testing is still mandatory even while COVID-19 controls are in place. If you have any concerns about how drug testing activities are managed, these can be raised with line managers to ensure testing is conducted safely.

Workshops Division

Sydney Trains has advised cleaners at Flemington that they will no longer be using the detergent called “Agar” for the touch point cleaning. This would mean that cleaners will be solely using SAO water for touch point cleaning. It is still not clear whether SAO is capable of killing germs or whether it has the ability to kill the COVID bacteria. This was a bizarre move at this point of the crisis.

RTBU delegates contacted their safety professionals immediately their concerns were confirmed. Acting on this information, delegates advised management of their concerns and requested an urgent response. These concerns were supported by Train Crew who pursued this issue through their safety professionals.

Due to the quick thinking of your delegates, Sydney Trains reversed its decision and 20 litres of Agar was delivered by a senior manager to Flemington. Congratulations to all the delegates involved for ensuring that Sydney Trains provides a safe workplace for members and passengers.

Stations

In our meeting with Sydney Trains this week we discussed some issues of real importance to members on the stations:

  • Sticker decals and posters have reached all Sydney Trains locations;
  • Patronage has increased and it is expected to continue;
  • Sydney Trains could not advise what the role and function of the marshal is;
  • In-transit cleaning is working really well with great passenger feedback. This will continue to be important as more passengers return to the network.

Once again, NSW Trains failed to meet with delegates from the stations. Delegates managed once again to attend the HSR meeting this week, although NSW Trains only allowed for a 30 minute meeting. Updates from this meeting included:

  • Sticker decals and posters have reached all NSW Trains locations;
  • Portable sanitiser stations have been rolled out to stations for members and passengers;
  • Tape has been put on station seating to encourage physical distancing at stations.

At Metro Trains there was no meeting this week. We are requesting to meet with Metro next week for an urgent update on how they are coping with the COVID crisis.

Freight

Pacific National is at it again, insisting that three workers be crowded into a cab so as to continue their training regime for labour hire employees. Although there are some important steps being undertaken by PN in relation to hygiene in the workplace and in cabs, to begin at this stage to start crowding three people in such an enclosed space seems to be an unnecessary risk for a non-essential activity.

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