Shadow Minister of Transport, Jodi McKay standing up against Bus Privatisation. Photo: Supplied.

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BY JADE MORELLENI

First the opposition lost in the fight against bus privatisation in the Inner West, now the new private operators are dividing the city with their decision to recruit drivers from New Zealand.

In February, Transit Systems won the Government contract to operate the Region 6 network and this means they have the power to hire and fire staff as they wish, giving them more flexibility in cutting bus workers’ wages and conditions.

“They’re only privatising initially the four Inner West depots – Leichardt, Burwood, Tempe and Kingsgrove. A lot of the bus drivers from those depots don’t want to work for a private owner, so a lot of them are transferring to other depots,” Jefferson Lee, STOP Group Convener, said. “Moving from public to private sector, the conditions are worse. Under the public sector, they get an extra week’s holiday pay for a start.”

Many fear that by hiring workers from New Zealand, it could mean young Sydneysiders looking for work may miss out.

Labor leader Luke Foley said, “I can reveal today that the very first act of the new private operator of Sydney buses across dozens of Sydney suburbs is to recruit staff from overseas. Transit Systems Australia, which has been issued the contract for region 6 will have bus drivers coming from overseas.”

The advertisement from Transit Systems Australia called bus drivers from New Zealand to apply, promising to provide extensive training and to cover the costs.

“I’m angry, why is it that our essential public services can’t be operated by our own citizens, by people who live in NSW? I think it ought to be mandatory that when it comes to an occupation like driving a bus in NSW, that we recruit from our own citizens,” Foley said.

Shadow Minister for Transport, Jodi McKay told the City Hub, “In the ad, they actually said that there would be training provided free and relocation costs would be paid for and this would have been fabulous for people in rural or regional NSW.”

If workers are hired from overseas, they will need to be taught everything from scratch.

A bus driver of 30 years, Ron Watson said, “A problem with hiring from overseas would be that more comprehensive and longer periods of training would be required due to the simple fact that many of these drivers would not be familiar with Sydney traffic conditions/laws and/or road configurations.”

Youth unemployment continues to be an issue in Sydney, so the opposition is questioning why young Sydneysiders aren’t being targeted in the advertisement.

“There is chronically high youth unemployment in many parts of the state. Why on earth are they issuing a contract to someone whose first act is to recruit foreigners when frankly they should be recruiting from areas such as the Hunter and Illawarra and North Coast, the areas with chronically high youth unemployment stuck in the double digits,” Foley continued.

Jodi McKay agreed, “There are a lot of people I would think that would want to take on a job as a bus driver when you look at the number of young people we have who don’t have a job, particularly in rural and regional areas.”

With the concerns of many being noted by Transport for NSW, a spokesperson replied, “Transit Systems West is recruiting drivers to ensure there are sufficient drivers to deliver all Region 6 services reliably from day one and is recruiting 300 drivers in total.”

Transport NSW promised to prioritise recruitment from Australia before New Zealand.

“Transit Systems West has a staged driver recruitment strategy which starts with targeted recruitment in Sydney. The other elements of the recruitment drive include recruitment in NSW and other states and recruitment in New Zealand. This is a mitigation strategy and relatively few drivers are expected to be recruited from New Zealand. Local drivers will be hired in preference to New Zealand drivers. It also costs less to recruit locally.”

Watson understands their struggle to fill 300 vacant driver spots, “There are simply not enough drivers available for existing positions as it is. The industry as a whole is very short on drivers due to the expansion of the bus networks by the current government to cater to growing passenger demand.”

“We’ve said from the beginning that this will have an impact on the delivery of inner west buses, we believe that there will be job losses and services that will be impacted. There’s nothing we can do, the government has given the contract to inner west buses to transit systems, it’s a private operator and has a contract for more than five years to run those buses so we fought a good fight but lost,” McKay said.

Local of the Inner West and Contributor of Sparks Magazine, Mark Mcguire said, “There is going to be a big crisis in the bus operations and staffing, the information we have received is that they are not receiving many takers from New Zealand. The answer to improving bus services is not for the government to wash their hands of the matter and secretly sell them off. If the government was seriously seeking to improve services, they wouldn’t be trying to shift the blame, but would deliver an extended network of priority lanes, traffic light priority for buses and additional bus services.”