Members of the Victorian public transport union have publicly protested against a drastic increase in the sacking of tram drivers. Bolstered by supporters from other unions (MUA, FSU, AMWU, ANMF), more than 100 rallied on 26 May outside the Bourke Street headquarters of Keolis.

French transport company Keolis has held the contract to operate Melbourne’s tram network since 2009. Last year the company sacked 13 tram drivers. Another seven drivers have already lost their jobs this year. The unions says that workers are losing their jobs in unreasonable circumstances. It gave an example of a new driver who was given the sack for making a small technical mistake in his first weeks on the job.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union says that, prior to 2013, on average, two drivers a year were dismissed. The union is in possession of a leaked document that it says raises questions about whether workers are now being sacked by Keolis as part of a plan or on the basis of a quota.

It was reported to the crowd that the company’s “managerial speaking notes” (passed to the union by a Keolis insider) outlined the company’s position that, with seven sackings to May, the number of dismissals is “on track to be around 15 by the end of the year”. Holding their depot banners high, tram drivers booed and howled at the news that Keolis is readying the axe for another eight workers before the year is out.

A handful of managers monitored the demonstration from behind the security desk of the office building in which the company’s headquarters sit.

Speaking to Red Flag at the end of the rally, the Victorian secretary of the RTBU, Luba Grigorovitch, said that tram drivers had come to the protest despite intimidation from Keolis managers. “This is just the start”, she said. “If it happens again, we’ll be jumping straight on it; it might be a rally or something more drastic.”