Sydney Bus Drivers Could Strike Over Masks

August 17, 2020 Updated: August 18, 2020

Sydney bus drivers are threatening to strike unless masks are made compulsory for passengers on crowded buses and social distancing on public transport is strictly enforced.

But the NSW transport minister says the drivers shouldn’t take industrial action beyond a stop-work meeting and ruled out mandating mask use on buses.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) NSW has written to Premier Gladys Berejiklian giving notice of a 48-hour work stoppage next week unless the government enforces health and safety guidelines to keep commuters and transport workers safe.

The RTBU’s David Babineau said the state government since the COVID-19 outbreak had refused to meet with the union to meaningfully address bus drivers’ concerns.

“Bus drivers have been fronting up to work every day during this pandemic, despite great personal risk to themselves and their families, to keep our state moving,” he said on Aug 18.

“We need a clear protocol for enforcing safe travelling guidelines that includes compulsory mask-wearing by passengers when there are more passengers than green dots on buses and trams, providing clarity around the enforcement of physical distancing on transport.”

Babineau also wanted bus privatisation plans for eastern and northern Sydney scrapped.

The strike is planned for Monday and will affect bus operations in Regions 7, 8 and 9, covering North West Sydney, the North Shore, Northern Beaches and Eastern Suburbs.

But Transport Minister Andrew Constance said any industrial action undertaken must be COVID-safe for both drivers and the public, and a stop-work meeting would be preferable.

He said the strike action would be taken to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to ensure Monday’s services weren’t cut, which would force commuters to cram onto fewer services.

“When it comes to masks, we get our advice from (NSW chief medical officer) Kerry Chant—we don’t have advice to mandate masks across our community and fine people, but we have advice urging the community to put them on … it wouldn’t matter if it was a train or bus or supermarket,” Constance said.

“There’s a lot of worry in our community at the moment … a strike is not the way to go.

“We’re telling the community to wear masks, but we’re not fining them and not requiring our frontline staff to turn around to someone who hasn’t got a mask and get them off the service.

“There’s a bit of common sense, self-responsibility in this.”

By Angelo Risso and Maureen Dettre in Sydney