BUS INDUSTRY ‘ESSENTIAL SERVICE’ PUSH; ‘CONDUCTOR’ ROLE REPRISE

By: Fabian Cotter, Photography by: courtesy BIC + various


EXCLUSIVE: The Covid-19 coronavirus, in initially stymieing much of the Australian bus and coach industry at present, has highlighted a need for governments to formally recognise buses and public transport as an ‘essential service’, says the Bus Industry Confederation (BIC), which published key documentation justifying it, recently.

BUS INDUSTRY ‘ESSENTIAL SERVICE’ PUSH; ‘CONDUCTOR’ ROLE REPRISE
The BIC points out, “…public transport is recognised as an essential service in a number of western developed economies," - the issue highlighted more so by the current coronavirus plight.

Launching its new dedicated industry hub - www.ozebus.com.au/covid - to help bus and coach operators Australia-wide during this coronavirus-induced lockdown time, the BIC has also issued a document, titled Industry, Politicians and Jurisdictions Brief, Covid-19 and Bus Services (dated April 2, 2020), outlining key proposals for safe service operation of buses.

Some of the strategies advocated include:

• Temperature testing of drivers and staff;

• Drivers offered to wear effective masks;

• No cash payments;

• Rear and middle door entry where available;

• A conductor to be introduced as a temporary measure on all city services and peak town services to manage passenger numbers and seating and cleaning of hard services on bus.

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BUSINESS ASSISTANCE

In terms of business assistance for bus operations, the BIC cites the following:

• Suspension of the Road User Charge (RUC) component of fuel excise for buses and coaches. This would mean a full rebate of fuel excise paid for fuel used for the purposes of bus and coach travel as applies to miners and farmers operating off road (Currently, fuel excise is 42.3 cents per litre of which buses and coaches and industry can claim approximately 16.5 cents per litre as a rebate and the difference is the RUC, which is currently frozen at 25.8 cents per litre. Industry is seeking government to continue with the proposed suspension of the RUC due to Covid-19 and for an agreed period (no less than 6 months), after return to normal services (Rates are available at ato.gov.au/fueltaxcreditrates);

• Suspension or waiving of government fees, taxes and charges (mainly state based), such as payroll tax, registration fees and certificates of insurance fees; and

• Suspension of road tolls for buses and coaches for an agreed period.

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NEEDED NOW

According peak bus industry organisations BIC and the Bus Australia Network (BAN), the case to have such essential-service recognition has been long presented.

"The continuation of public transport services under current industrial relations laws is not guaranteed as a result of industrial action, such as strikes and withdrawal of labour," it states.

"Unlike the Qantas case several years ago, public transport is not recognised as an essential service, and the Minister has no "step in rights" to cease industrial action," it explains.

"The BIC has argued for many years that public transport should be recognised in the Fair Work Act as an essential service. It is the BIC’s contention that if public transport services, including bus public transport services (buses carry more passengers per day than any other modes) are stopped due to industrial actions for any prolonged period, it will lead to significant economic and social ‘dislocation’."

The BIC is also quick to point out that, "…public transport is recognised as an essential service in a number of western developed economies."

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DEEP DISCUSSION

As the organisation explains, the BIC has been in discussion with all levels of government on these issues over the past few weeks, as well as the issues relating to the economic and business impacts of Covid-19 and what might be done to support bus operators, bus manufacturers and suppliers.

On Wednesday, 25 March, the BIC's Industrial Work Group met to consider the introduction of the Passenger Vehicle Transportation Award 2020 on 13 April, 2020. Here the meeting also considered a BIC strategy to enforce the need for public transport to remain an essential service during the period of lock down from the coronavirus.

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The week following saw the bus State Association Executive Directors meet with the BIC to discuss the prospects of commencing negotiations for variations to the Passenger Vehicle Transportation Award to ensure greater flexibility for its workforce and how each state was dealing with their State Transport departments about continuity of service and employment.

Since then the Fair Work Commission has, ‘off its own back’ sources say, indicated that it will amend most awards including the PVTA to include:

- Unpaid pandemic leave for all employees (casual and permanent); and

- To allow annual leave at half pay for double the leave period without affecting the main entitlement to 10 days leave per year.

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UNION PARTICPATION

The BIC confirms moves have been made to discuss such issues with the Transport Workers Union of Australia (TWA) at a proposed meeting next week.

It is hoped the negotiations prove fruitful and, as reported on website www.workplaceexpress.com.au, comes at a time the Prime Minister of Australia, The Hon. Scott Morrison MP, has described his government's close consultation with the Opposition in drafting legislation to give effect to the JobKeeper coronavirus wage subsidy programme that will be put to Parliament next week, while joining IR Minister Christian Porter in thanking unions for their cooperation in achieving "massive" temporary IR changes.

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The Prime Minister also says he had again spoken to ACTU secretary Sally McManus, recently, stating: "…and I want to thank her for her engagement in what is a very difficult time".

"[The unions] understand that and I thank them for the way they have engaged in that discussion.

"There are no blues teams or red teams.

"There are no more unions or bosses.

"There are just Australians now.

"That is all that matters.

"An Australian national interest and all Australians working together and I thank all of those who are coming together in that spirit and that will be very important as we move to put in place [the] arrangements that we are for this JobSeeker program and the many things that relate to that."

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