“Labour shouldn’t be treated as a commodity!” This is the rallying cry of Perth bus drivers who for the past month have been engaged in a campaign against public transport contractor Transdev.

The campaign started in early October as enterprise bargaining stalled after months of negotiations. Workers have implemented fare-free days and had a series of stop-works.

Drivers want to be paid the same as their colleagues employed by other contractors in the city. Transport Workers Union state secretary Tim Dawson told Perth’s 6PR radio that workers would need at least a 3 percent annual pay rise, on top of inflation, in order to catch up. Transdev workers also accrue only three weeks of annual leave per year, and receive 1 percent less in superannuation contributions than other drivers.

Added to that, there is a higher level of casualisation and part time employment at Transdev, with no clear path to permanent or full time positions.

The workers face a number of challenges in their campaign, most stemming from the division of the workforce between companies. Since the mid-1990s, Perth’s bus services have been privatised, with companies submitting tenders to run individual routes. This has led to services being managed by three separate contractors: Transdev, Swan Transit and Path Transit.

This has allowed each contractor to negotiate a separate agreement with the union. This not only leads to differences in pay and conditions within the industry but also means that workers in the same union, employed in the same industry, are not able to take joint industrial action.

Transdev and the state government have exploited this weakness, mobilising non-union drivers, and drivers from other contractors, to minimise the impact of work stoppages. Transdev knows that this puts it in a strong position. 

The company appears unlikely to meet the workers’ demands any time soon. Drivers will have to increase the pressure if they are to succeed.