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RTBU: latest COVID-19 update

Apr 25, 2020COVID19 News RTBU News

This week heralded more good news on the COVID-19 front as new cases of the virus continued to fall all across Australia. We saw the rate of new infections fall to as low as four nationwide this week, which is incredible news and a testament to the commitment of all Australians.

Last weekend, the NSW Government responded to calls from unions and others across Australia to impose harsh penalties on anyone who spits or coughs on any worker during the COVID-19 crisis. This comes as good news to RTBU members who are sometimes subjected to this type of vile behaviour as they continue to provide an essential service during these difficult times. There is now a $5,000 on the spot fine and potential jail time for any person caught spitting or coughing on transport workers.

We have already seen this new law in effect, with three people being given fines under the new law including someone who spat on a bus driver during the week. Station staff have also been subjected to violence and spitting – in one instance by someone who claimed to be infected by COVID-19. These sort of sick actions are disgraceful, and if you experience any of this sort of behaviour, please ensure you let us know, notify your management and insist that they contact the police.

You can watch our Tram and Bus Divisional Secretary, David Babineau responding to this announcement here. (David starts at 11min)

These kinds of assaults should never be tolerated, which is why we’ll be pushing to ensure the NSW Government keep these deterrents in place long after the coronavirus pandemic is behind us.

Recently the NSW Government also announced that it would be bringing forward $100 million of infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy of regional areas to counter the effect of COVID-19. We met with Transport for NSW, who will be administering the package. They informed us that $15 million would be targeted at rail maintenance and safety projects. If you know of any infrastructure deficiencies or planned projects in a regional area that can be brought forward, please let us know, as we have been asked to provide a list of areas in need.

The RTBU is also continuing to work on the issue of special leave. Who is eligible for special leave continues to be an area that members are concerned about. On Friday, we asked Transport for NSW for clarification about:

  • The rate special leave is paid at; and
  • Whether an employee who is caring for a vulnerable loved one is eligible for the leave.

Transport has confirmed that Sydney and NSW Trains members are paid for their rostered hours, but this excludes any overtime (rostered or not), penalties, and allowances. This is bad news particularly for members who rely heavily on overtime and allowances to make ends meet. We will continue to push for fairness when it comes to the special leave rate.

If you are caring for a loved one, Transport confirmed that although it is unable to commit to a blanket position, if a worker can demonstrate they have caring responsibilities that are related to the protection of a vulnerable person during the COVID-19 crisis, it will be looked at favourably when it comes to special leave.

Finally, a big thank you to all members who participated in the altered ANZAC Day commemorations this morning. Although we are not able to participate in the ceremonies the same way as we usually do, it’s still important that we commemorate this important day and remember those that have sacrificed so much for us.  Lest we forget.

Fleet Maintenance

Last week, Sydney Trains consulted with the Fleet Maintenance delegates regarding roster changes at Flemington to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. This includes measures like ensuring that shifts do not come into contact with each other. The RTBU has received written confirmation from Sydney Trains that everything will return to normal once the crisis abates.

This week, cleaners at Sydney Trains have been told that SAO (Stabilised Aqueous Ozone) water is effective against COVID-19. A proposal has been put on the table to replace the disinfectants that have been used during the crisis to clean our trains. Members are yet to be convinced about this and further consultation will occur before any changes are made.

Rail Operations Centre and Disaster Recovery Centres

This week, there were renewed calls for temperature checking on entry into Disaster Recovery Centres. It is unfortunate that Sydney Trains is yet to provide this important safety precaution to members that are expected to spend extended periods of time in enclosed spaces.

At the Rail Operations Centre (ROC), Sydney Trains has released a proposed procedure to introduce temperature checking on entry. Members still working at the ROC have submitted their feedback on how this new procedure will operate in practice, but are generally supportive of the safety measure.

Train Crew

Sydney Trains has increased the turnaround cleaning regime for crew cabs to 7 days a week now (as opposed to Monday to Friday as was previously the case). This is great news as COVID-19 doesn’t take the weekend off!

NSW Trains continues to disappoint in their lacklustre response to the COVID-19 crisis. The New Intercity Fleet (NIF) continues to be tested in the shadows with a seemingly complete disregard for the safety of those tasked with the testing process. The RTBU has requested that NSW Trains provide any risk assessment that has been carried out.

Freight

After members banded together in an unprecedented fashion, Pacific National backed down on its move to cut pay and conditions. This is a great win by members and delegates. Pacific National has now asked the RTBU to come to the table and talk about what measures can be put in place for instances when COVID-19 requires changes to working conditions. Regardless, this is no time for cutting the conditions of employment of hard working transport workers.

In a disgraceful move, QUBE has recanted on an in-principle agreement to long running enterprise agreement negotiations. Members have been waiting to vote on the proposed agreement for months, but QUBE has stated that it does not want to pay the wage increases previously agreed to, citing COVID-19 as the reason. Instead it has proposed a wage freeze. For QUBE to back out of the deal it made is an appalling show of bad faith during these tough times. 

Stations

This week saw an increase in patronage on our stations. As we move into a recovery phases, it is expected that this increase will continue, and delegates will be ensuring that Sydney Trains management ensure that physical distancing is properly enforced for both passengers and staff.

NSW Trains cancelled their weekly meeting with RTBU delegates this week in a continuation of their disappointing and alarming response to the COVID-19 crisis. We hope that the meeting scheduled for next Wednesday goes ahead to ensure that pressing issues for members are heard and resolved.

Salaried and Administrative

Members who are working from home need to be cognisant about what they may be able to claim come tax time. The ATO has announced a new method for calculating the tax deductions available for each day you spend working from home.  The new method is an 80 cents per hour deduction to take into account all work related costs. However, an analysis by the ABC has warned that this may leave people worse off. You can read more about this here. 

Tram and Bus

The RTBU was in the media this week as part of its continued push to provide bus drivers with masks to protect them while doing their work. Some drivers are resorting to making up their own masks, which is ridiculous in a country like Australia. You can more about it  here. 

Bus drivers are unfortunately subjected to vile behaviour such as spitting on a regular basis. It is welcome news that the NSW Government is taking this seriously during the crisis. We will call for the new laws around spitting and coughing on transport workers to remain after the COVID-19 crisis subsides. You can watch the news report on that issue here.

Infrastructure

Engineering and Maintenance Division members at Sydney Trains continue to participate in a number of work groups including:

  • COVID-19 task force;
  • Shared Vehicle group; and
  • WHS/HSR working party.

These meetings have been very productive in managing all types of circumstances and have created a great opportunity for the combined unions group to have issues dealt with and responded to. We hope that such effective cooperation continues after the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Unfortunately, Infrastructure Division members at Sydney Trains are a group that will be negatively affected by the decision of Transport to limit special leave to rostered hours. If you have a story about what this means to you, please let us know and we will continue to advocate for a fairer rate.

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