Sydney bus strike: ’Winter of discontent’ hangs over privatisation move
Summary: Further strike action on Sydney’s buses is on the cards, with the union threatening workers will walk off the job over winter if the Premier doesn’t step in a halt its plans to privatise inner west buses.....
Last night in a letter to commuters, the union threatened the government with further strike action.
“If the Premier does not intervene as a matter of urgency this will, indeed, be Sydney’s winter of discontent,” the letter said.
“On Monday, without warning, without consulting any public transport worker or a single Sydneysider Minister Constance announced that he would fully privatise one third of Sydney’s entire public bus network.
“This will affect a massive area of our city, including tens of thousands of commuters who’ll face disruption and 1,200 public transport workers who’ll lose their jobs.
Meanwhile, the union boss behind today’s illegal strike has been accused of “making excuses” after he claimed to be “sleeping like a baby” during a crucial period last night when the industrial action should have been halted.
The IRC ruled last night that today’s highly disruptive bus strike in the inner west should not proceed and drivers staging industrial action would be in breach of the law.
It also ordered the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) to inform workers of the order and to tell them comply with it — a move that would have effectively ended the 24-hour strike, which began at midnight.
But RTBU boss Chris Preston, head of the union’s bus division, was asleep at the wheel — literally.
He said today, “Put it this way — you might hear it in my voice — I haven’t been that well for the last few days.
“I slept like a baby last night, woke up at five o’clock and saw the orders. Once I saw the orders … logistically it would have been impossible for me to get these workers back.
“And even if I tried to get them back, as you’ve heard here today, this isn’t Chris Preston or the RTBU calling this, it’s the members of the RTBU.
“I complied with the orders as best I can.”
The union may now face a fine of up to $10,000 for not halting the strike.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance said Mr Preston was making excuses.
“We will look very seriously at the consequences of that, if we have to go to the Supreme Court this afternoon that’s what we will do,” he said.
“Nobody is going to accept Mr Preston’s excuse, sitting up in bed with a cup of Milo and a milk arrowroot that he wasn’t aware what happened at the IRC last night.”
The strike was called because of anger over plans to privatise inner west bus services.
The Daily Telegraph understands just six of the 1200 bus drivers who work in the inner west turned up for work today.
The government is withholding all wages of those on strike, expected to total around $230,000.
The union-led bus strike which caused chaos across Sydney today cost the economy a whopping $2 million, it has been claimed.
The NSW Business Chamber estimates the strike, set to continue this evening, could cost employers $2 million in lost productivity.
Some people travelling to work this morning were delayed by the chaos, turning up late for work or even turning back and working from home.
Others soldiered on, catching trains or making alternative plans.
Dozens of striking drivers appeared at a press conference with union bosses near State Parliament this morning and strongly indicated they would not be heading back to work today, defying the orders of the Industrial Relations Commission.
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance delivered a blunt message to bus drivers who failed to turn up for their shifts today as part of industrial action protesting the privatisation of bus routes.
Last night the Industrial Relations Commission ordered that the Rail, Tram and Bus Union and its members immediately cease organising or taking any form of strike action against the planned privatisation of some bus services in the Inner West.
But Rail, Tram and Bus Union spokesman Chris Preston said they only saw orders at 5am.
“Logistically I wouldn’t be able to get these workers back to work,”
“And even if I saw these orders at the time they were handed down the drivers wouldn’t come back to work.
“What today’s action is about, is the transport minister. Yes, I might be the figure head of the union, but the union is its members and the members have made their decision.”
The strike was called after the state government announced it would privatise the entire Inner West fleet. The depots affected include Leichhardt, Burwood, Kingsgrove and Tempe.