Newcastle drivers 'on a downer' three months after NSW Government handed bus network to Keolis Downer

Rail, Tram and Bus Union divisional secretary Chris Preston says there have been ongoing issues since Keolis Downer took over Newcastle's buses. Picture: Nick Bielby
Rail, Tram and Bus Union divisional secretary Chris Preston says there have been ongoing issues since Keolis Downer took over Newcastle's buses. Picture: Nick Bielby

Three months after private operator Keolis Downer took over Newcastle’s public buses, some drivers say they are still being underpaid.

But the company says its payroll issues have been resolved.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union representatives met with the region’s state MPs on Monday to discuss a transition they called “far from smooth”.

“We are on a downer,” said one bus driver, who asked not to be named out of fear for his job.

Underpayments have been an issue since the first pay period after Keolis Downer took over the city’s buses from state government agency Transport for NSW.

Some drivers have been underpaid as recently as the last pay period, the union says.

RTBU divisional secretary Chris Preston said the union had received about 80 complaints about late pay.

He also said problems with staff rosters meant some drivers were working more than they should be.

For fatigue management, bus drivers are subject to strict rules about breaks between shifts.

Mr Preston said Transport Minister Andrew Constance should have ensured issues with pay and rosters would not become a problem before the government handed the reins to Keolis Downer on July 1.

“So far we’ve got workers who haven’t been paid right,” he said. “We’ve got fatigue in the rosters that the workers are driving and we’ve got stories of commuters and school children being left all across Newcastle.”

Mr Preston dismissed a suggestion that the issues could be teething problems.

“The size of the problems we’ve faced since the company [took over] is not acceptable,” he said.

Keolis Downer Hunter CEO Campbell Mason said the company had implemented a payroll system “that will ensure all Newcastle Transport staff are paid accurately, on time and in accordance with the conditions of their employment”.

He said a “small number” of payroll errors occurred as a result of migrating data from Transport for NSW to the Keolis Downer system, but those errors had been resolved.

Mr Mason said processes had been introduced to ensure drivers had the necessary time off.

“No drivers have been required to work concurrent shifts without taking the required break,” he said.

Labor transport spokesperson Jodi McKay said Mr Constance needed to address the issues that had been brewing since the bus network was privatised.

When asked about the problems and what the government did to make the transition smooth, Mr Constance said: “I expect Keolis Downer to pick up their game and make sure all staff are paid on time”.

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