Australia: Three hundred bus drivers to strike in Newcastle

More than 300 bus drivers in the regional New South Wales city of Newcastle will carry out a 24-hour strike on Monday. The action follows a protest by bus drivers on Friday June 3, when workers walked off the job for four hours, after unanimously rejecting an enterprise agreement (EA) proposed by their employer, Keolis Downer, that would slash real wages.

Newcastle bus drivers have implemented a uniform ban as part of ongoing industrial action. (Photo: RTBU Express)

The company offered workers a 10 percent pay “increase” over four years, far below the rate of inflation. The Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) has declared it would offer in-principle agreement if Keolis Downer revised the EA to provide a 7 percent pay increase over two years. Daniel Jaggers, president of the RTBU New South Wales (NSW) tram and bus division, said, “a seven percent increase over two years to help offset cost-of-living pressures is a fair ask from drivers who just want to earn a decent living wage.”

Last week, reporters from the World Socialist Web Site spoke to several Newcastle bus drivers, who asked to remain anonymous to protect against retaliation from their employer or the union.

One worker said: “We don’t take going on strike lightly. It’s going to be hot up in the next couple of weeks. We want to go on strike, we’ve had enough of it. They have refused to come to the table, this has been going on since November.

“It took about eight weeks to actually be able to go on strike. Next week we won’t turn on the [fare collection] machines and then the following week we will be on strike. It might be ongoing until we get what we want. They’ve offered us nothing.”

The driver said management had told workers, “If you guys want extra money, work more overtime!” He continued: “Sundays are voluntary, that just means workers have to give up another Sunday to get more pay to keep up with inflation.”

Another driver said: “Nothing came of the June 3 strike. The union came with a 7 percent deal to management. That’s only 3.5 percent [per annum]that doesn’t even come close to the rate of inflation.”

As the worker indicated, the union’s meagre demand would mean a significant real wage cut for workers. The official inflation rate at the end of March was already at 5.1 percent, and is widely tipped to reach 7 percent before the end of the year. The price of basic everyday goods and services, including petrol, utilities and food is increasing even more rapidly.

Limited industrial action is scheduled after the single-day strike, starting with a ban on fare collection from Tuesday. However, the RTBU issued a bulletin to workers on Friday, cautioning workers that Keolis Downer had raised “major concerns” about the fare collection ban. The union warned that the company may dock workers’ pay or refuse to pay them entirely if they do not turn the card readers on, or even lock out the entire workforce.

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