By: Fabian Cotter

THE VIC/TAS BRANCH of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) has demanded assaults on bus drivers be treated as Category 1 offences that would require courts to impose a custodial sentence on offenders, recently.

Random attacks on drivers have prompted TWU calls for harsher sentences.

The call follows another appalling attack on a driver who was abused and robbed yesterday in West Park Hastings, on the Mornington Peninsula, the organisation states.

TWU concerns for member and commuter safety is rising with the escalating number and nature of assaults on drivers and a growing number of high-risk areas – where there is a spike of physical and verbal assaults on drivers - across Victoria.

The Union has called on the Victorian Government to include passenger vehicle drivers in legislation it has announced will be introduced to the Parliament in coming weeks, which will see anyone who attacks and injures an emergency worker, including police and paramedics, receive a custodial sentence.

A motion calling for this legislation to be extended to bus drivers will also be tabled by the TWU (VIC/TAS Branch) at this weekend’s Victoria ALP State Conference, as it continues to lobby for the highest industry standards of safety for those on the front-line of bus operations.

Following yesterday’s robbery, drivers – through a TWU delegate - informed the bus operator that they were afraid for their safety and concerned about continuing to service the area in question.

A meeting was subsequently held between the TWU and the operator who agreed to organise for security personal to patrol the area, the Union states. Police were also contacted and ‘Authorised Officers’ will also be dispatched to the area.

The TWU has secured some important reforms for drivers in recent times, including the continuing roll-out of driver security screens and voice-over technology that removes the onus on drivers to ask passengers to ‘touch-on’.

 Related article: Most Queensland drivers experience abuse
Related article: Most Queensland drivers experience abuse

However, the TWU is also calling for:

• Additional Authorised Officers on buses and the jurisdiction for Protective Service Officers be extended to the bus network;

• The introduction of mandatory minimum penalties and custodial sentences for those who attack drivers, and;

• The installation of CCTV in buses made compulsory.

Since 2011, more than 100 Victorian bus drivers have been physically assaulted and 33 verbally abused, including racially vilified, according to Transport Safety Victoria.

TWU (VIC/TAS Branch) secretary and TWU national vice-president John Berger said members were sick and tired of random attacks by aggressive passengers and drivers deserved the basic right to a safe workplace.

"Bus drivers were once highly respected members of the community, this is sadly no longer the case," Berger said.

"There is no other profession in Australia where being spat on, used as a punching bag, knocked unconscious, having a knife held to the throat, or enduring a verbal onslaught is shrugged off as an occupational hazard.

"For too long both operators and Public Transport Victoria have turned a blind eye to the growing number of often vicious and unprovoked attacks on bus drivers and it is time they displayed some leadership.

"These workers perform an important community service and are trusted to ensure passengers - including many elderly and children who rely on bus services - arrive at their destinations safely. Many assaults are perpetrated by thugs sometimes using weapons while buses are travelling at speed.

"It is shameful that, in doing their job, drivers are currently fully exposed, alone and susceptible to opportunistic and petty robbery and assault and left to fend. This is a critical situation and it is beyond time for change."

Ticketing disputes, which have skyrocketed since the introduction of Myki by PTV in May 2013, substance use and shortened run times are the principal catalysts for assaults and threatening behaviour on bus drivers, the Union states.

A 2016 TWU survey of Victorian bus drivers found 90 per cent of respondents disclose that threats of assault and abuse had made the job more dangerous today compared with when they began working. And, 80 per cent of respondents said they no longer bothered reporting assaults as they believed past complaints had not been acted on appropriately, it states.

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