Around 1,500 bus drivers working for Dyson and Ventura went on strike for 24 hours in Melbourne yesterday, closing up to 80 bus routes. The industrial action was taken up by a new industrial agreement, with wages, lists and other working conditions as central issues.
One of the Socialist Equality Party’s federal election candidates for Victoria’s Senate, Peter Byrne, attended a picket at the Dyson depot in the working-class northern suburb of Bundoora. Byrne and other SEP activists spoke with the strikers about their struggle and the socialist and internationalist perspective of the party.
About 100 drivers maintained the picket at Bundoora, preventing buses from leaving the depot. The drivers are mostly immigrant workers, many from India. Everyone took a copy of the SEP election statement. A worker told Byrne that the drivers should vote for the SEP because of the support of our strike candidates. Several workers said they had already voted for Labor and the Liberals, but nothing had changed. One said he had met SEP members in Sydney and was looking for a political alternative.
Prab, a bus driver at Dyson for six years, told Byrne: “The main issue is a pay rise. We are also concerned about security related to COVID-19: the company receives money from the government, but it is not ready to spend it on us. It’s a family business, there are a lot of problems that happen.
Prabh also spoke about how drivers are coping with the social crisis. He explained: “Recently a driver was attacked in Wollert. We asked the company to put a [security] turn on the screen. He is not pursued by the police, they will not take any action. We are an essential service. We worked through COVID, got nothing from the government. We are on the front line. Many drivers are affected. When we return home, the stress of work also passes on our families.
“We think now is the time to take action and let the company know it should make changes. This is the first ever strike at Dyson. We think we should come together and make their voices heard our voice. Everything has gone up – interest rates, mortgages, fuel prices – but our salary has been the same for three years.
Dyson regular service bus drivers receive a base hourly wage of just $30 to $31.50. This is only slightly higher than what they received at the start of the previous industry convention in July 2018, almost four years ago, when it was $27.15 to $28.60.
taj, who worked as a driver for five years, said: “The main problem is the increase in wages and the conditions. Some people don’t have proper lists. Last week they put together a new roster. Some people lost five hours a week. They increase the services but stretch the drivers. There are not enough breaks. Sometimes we have to drive for four hours without a break. It’s not safe for passengers, and it’s not safe for us. Some drivers have neck and back injuries because there is a lot of pressure. Sometimes they have to start early in the morning and then late at night. There are no toilets.
Taj also spoke about the impact of the pandemic. “With COVID, if drivers have to self-isolate, we have to use our sick pay,” he explained. “I had 100 hours of sick pay but had to use it for COVID. Now that they’re gone, I only have 10 hours left. My wife also had to self-isolate. No one was wearing a mask at that time.
In April, more than 95% of workers voted in favor of industrial action at several companies involved in Melbourne’s privatized bus system, including Ventura, Dyson and Ivanhoe Bus Company. Workers are covered by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and actions allowed include overtime bans, work bans and strikes.
Workers told SEP activists yesterday that they would strike every week until their demands were met.
The TWU bureaucracy has blocked a unified struggle by bus drivers across the network. Hundreds of workers from Kinetic, another company, were due to join yesterday’s strike, but it was called off by the TWU after reaching an agreement with the company on a new industrial agreement. Kinetic is set to succeed Transdev as Melbourne’s largest bus operator.
Full details of the deal have yet to be released, but the union reported a 6.74% wage increase in 2022 and “CPI [consumer price index] Safety Net” increases in 2023 and 2024.” TWU Branch Secretary Mike McNess said “Kinetic has set a new fair benchmark.”
Kinetic bus drivers and others should view these claims with acute skepticism and demand to see the deal in its entirety. The question can be asked, if the deal with Kenetic is a win, why hasn’t it been made public for all bus drivers to review? The cost of living across Australia is rising and bus drivers, like other sections of the working class, have seen their standard of living erode over the past period. The latest figures show official inflation at 5.1%, with inflation on basic necessities even higher. In addition, the 0.25% increase in official interest rates this week will begin to affect mortgage payments and rents.
As with Kenetic, TWU’s negotiations with Dyson took place behind closed doors, with very little information provided on unresolved issues. The union’s register of grievances is not available, and it is unclear what the bureaucracy has raised with management, beyond general calls for higher wages and improved onerous list and benefits. working conditions. This secrecy should be taken as a warning, with another TWU sale threatened.
Union officials have reported that in their negotiations with Dyson management, which have been ongoing since last December, the company has been unwilling to offer any wage increases.
The union also accuses Dyson of failing to pass on to workers wage subsidies provided by the state Labor government, amounting to a 2.19% raise. The Bus Association Victoria, which represents private operators, insisted the demands for higher wages and better rosters are ‘unreasonable’ because the only way they ‘would be accepted is if the government is willing to pay, what they are not”.
The TWU, which is affiliated with the Labor Party, falsely promotes it in the federal election campaign as a pro-worker alternative to the Liberal-National government. The Labor Party is a ruthless representative of big business and finance capital. In Victoria, state Labor governments have, with the support of the TWU and other unions, extended the privatization of bus services and other public transport over the past four decades.
This privatization has been the main mechanism for reducing the wages and conditions of public transport workers, but the TWU is not raising anything on the issue during the drafting of new industrial agreements in the industry.
Melbourne bus drivers are just the latest group of workers to strike in Australia in recent years.
Last Thursday, tens of thousands of public school teachers in New South Wales staged a one-day strike, which followed two strikes by NSW nurses in the past six months, walkouts by workers elderly and a major strike by railway workers in Sydney. In each case, these were the first such actions taken by workers in a decade and reflect a widespread determination among the working class to oppose corporate moves to cut wages and working conditions. work. In every struggle, however, the unions try to isolate workers and block the emergence of a unified struggle.
Peter Byrne told the World Socialist Website“In my discussions with the workers, I stressed the need to take their struggle out of the hands of the TWU bureaucracy and form independent rank-and-file committees, led by trusted workers. These committees must develop the closest unity of workers in the bus and public transport sectors and reach out to other sections of workers facing similar attacks, including teachers, nurses and other public sector workers. .
“Above all, what is required is the development of a political struggle against the state governments and the federal government. The Socialist Equality Party expresses its full solidarity with the striking Dyson and Ventura bus drivers and I look forward to the ongoing discussions of the political issues raised by their struggle.