Brisbane bus drivers still fighting for safety

It has been 10 months since Brisbane bus driver Manmeet Alisher was murdered at work. It’s been nearly that long since the start of enterprise agreement negotiations between bus drivers and Brisbane City Council. Predictably, the main issue for drivers is safety, but they are also demanding a wage rise and more input into rostering to reduce driver fatigue.

Tom Brown, division secretary of the tram and bus division of the drivers’ union, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (Queensland), told Red Flag that physical attacks on drivers had increased over the past year. “If bus drivers are not safe, then passengers are not safe”, he said. Yet the council is dragging its feet.

Brisbane City Council is trialling half screens in bus cabins, but it has insisted that guarantees about safety improvements will not be included in the new enterprise agreement. Brown said that the half screen trial is a “superficial action by the BCC to show it [is] doing something”. He also points out that the half screens don’t meet the recommendations of a recent review of driver safety or drivers’ demands.

Bus drivers are determined to win improvements. When balloted for industrial action in early July, 80 percent of union members voted in support. They started two-hour stoppages in mid-July and have also held a number of fare free and free dress days. In August, the union organised a half-day stoppage and two rallies that each drew hundreds of unionists, including from many of the other unions that represent other council staff.

Despite support for the drivers among the public, management is yet to agree to any of their demands. Liberal mayor Graham Quirk has been running a smear campaign against the workers and the union. On 4 September, he announced that he wants to bypass the union and put the proposed agreement directly to a ballot.

The mood of union members remains high. A growth in membership since the start of industrial action ensures that Quirk’s proposal for a non-union ballot is likely to fall flat.

Drivers are increasingly frustrated that negotiations have stalled. “They’ve taken everything from us and given nothing back … they just keep pushing. I’m pushing back”, one driver told Red Flag. “We’re not running now, we’re standing. We’re done with the running, mate.”