Bus SA Member Alert – June 2020

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President's corner

Ben Romanowski, President Bus SA

I am pleased to advise you that the State Government has approved the waiver of passenger transport operator accreditation and annual vehicle fees for a twelve-month period for eligible bus, tour and charter vehicle operators. This is a good win for our industry.

The details and implementation of the automatic fee waiver are currently being finalised and will be announced on the SA Government website’s support for business page.

We received this news in a letter from Treasurer Rob Lucas in response to the Board’s letter detailing some of the financial difficulties being faced by our industry during COVID-19, and listing some suggestions for relief. Lauran goes into more detail about the Treasurer’s letter in his report.

In the last few days, the South Australian government has released its Roadmap for Easing COVID-19 Restrictions as part of the State’s recovery plans. From 1 June we will be moving into Step 2, you can see what that entails on this roadmap graphic:

SA Govt COVID Roadmap May 2020

You may start hearing a lot about the need for businesses to create a COVID-Safe Plan. This only applies to businesses that were directed to close by government, so you do not need to comply. I would however recommend that you maintain fastidious cleaning and hygiene standards even as life slowly begins to creep back to normal. See our information on Workplace hygiene and best practice behaviour.

Finally, I have heard some good news on the grapevine, namely that the tour and transport sector will be included in Step 3 of the State’s recovery plans. We don’t yet know what this will look like, but there is a lot going on in the tourism space – as soon as I can report anything I will.

Regards, Ben.

Lauran Huefner headshot

Government Matters

Lauran Huefner, Director Bus SA

Government Response to COVID-19 Support for Bus Industry: Letter from the Treasurer, Hon Rob Lucas

In response to the broad challenges being faced by the bus industry, and with a particular interest in stimulating support for the tour and charter sector, Bus SA made a submission to the Treasurer, Rob Lucas, via the Department of Treasury and Finance COVID-19 Support Taskforce. The letter detailed the financial impact of COVID-19 on different sectors of the bus industry, listing recommendations for relief. We received a reply on 26 May with some useful outcomes for our industry. The State Government has:

  • Agreed to waive passenger transport operator accreditation and annual vehicle fees (where applicable) for a twelve-month period for eligible bus, tour and charter vehicle operators. DPTI is finalising the implementation of an automatic fee waiver process, further details on this process will be available at covid-19.sa.gov.au/business-and-work/support-for-businesses.
  • Delivered a financial support package, in line with our recommendations, for bus operators contracted by the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) to provide regional passenger transport bus services, to ensure that they remain viable and that a minimum service is maintained for community need during the COVID conditions. DPTI is working directly with operators to deliver this assistance.

The letter also advises that there will be no possibility of vehicle registration suspension in South Australia, but that operators can take advantage of registration suspensions: “…if operators are not using a vehicle during this period, they can choose to cancel their vehicle registration, and re-instate the same registration at a later date.

When cancelling a registration, the registered operator receives a pro-rata refund for the remaining portion of the vehicle’s registration fee, compulsory third party insurance premium and lifetime support fee levy. A $20 service fee is deducted from this amount. There is no requirement· to surrender the vehicle’s number plate to Service SA if it is intended that the vehicle will be re-registered within 12 months.

In situations where vehicles are still in use, registration can be renewed for vehicles used for passenger transport quarterly or annually. These registration options provide customers with the flexibility to renew registration based on their individual financial circumstances and will assist in reducing the upfront costs of registration.

There is still the option to apply to the government for access to the $10,000 business support grant, and I encourage you to make contact with me or Andrea if you would like to explore this. We cannot make this application for you, but we can support you through the process. It is important to note, however, that this funding will likely require evidence that your business is utilising other support methods, such as the JobKeeper payment.

Social distancing on PT and other bus services

BREAKING NEWS – Just as we were about to hit ‘publish’ on this Member Alert, SA Health made guidelines available for transport and tour vehicles, which includes buses other than PT. 

It’s good to have this clarity, and we’re pleased that the guidelines match up with Bus SA recommendations to government. Aside from the usual COVID health and safety advice, and suggestions about entering and exiting vehicles, the guidelines state that:

  • The total number of passengers permitted on transport and tour vehicle is no more than 20. This does not include tour operators, the driver and other people undertaking official duties.
  • The density requirements of 1 person per 4 square metres do not apply, but where possible people should space out and leave spare seats / rows in-between passengers.
  • Family units, friends or people who otherwise normally associate with each other can sit next to each other.
  • Seating should be assigned and passengers should sit in the same seat for the duration of the journey/tour, avoid walking up and down the aisle and touching seat headrests.
  • The contact details of passengers should be retained for contact tracing purposes.

Download the document from the SA Health website.

You are all aware that there is confusion about the current restrictions for social distancing on buses and public transport. Public transport is exempt from social distancing regulations, but coaches and buses are not. It is little wonder that people are confused. Bus services deemed to be public transportation can run full. But on bus runs deemed to be tour, charter, private, or not part of a public transportation route, the four square metre rule must be applied, making usage uneconomic and unviable.

An example I have highlighted to the Premier (as Tourism Minister) and Minister Knoll is the Sealink route from Adelaide to Cape Jervis. This can be both a ‘private service’ supporting the ferry to KI, and a country bus service run supporting the Fleurieu. In the first instance, the coach must have limited passengers on board (based on the four square metre rule). In the second instance, the bus could be full as it is a public service. There are many other examples, but in this case the same vehicle is used for both services with different regulatory challenges. I feel it spectacularly highlights the problem.

Given the rules around social gathering have begun to relax in South Australia – 20 patrons seated in a pub, a restaurant, a cinema – it makes sense to allow 20 people onto a coach so they can travel to said restaurant, pub, or cinema. Based on this concept we have recommended that government consider a ‘phased in’ approach to coaches, for example 20 people on a ‘large’ bus and 10 people on a ‘small’ bus. The idea is that one family group would be seated per row on the vehicle, so patrons can be staggered.

I also understand there are discussions ongoing with the Department of Health to improve their understanding of why the coach regulation needs amendment. There could be some changes announced as early as the next few days. Furthermore, the BIC is making submissions to tourism bodies and government agencies at national level to support improved conditions for tour operators. Have a look at Michael App’s column further along in this newsletter.

Please get in touch if you have any queries (lhuefner@bussa.asn.au).

Regards, Lauran.

Member Profile - Ann McGregor, Greenock Creek Charter

Ann McGregor and daughters
Ann McGregor and daughters, Caitlyn and Cassie

Back in 1987, Eric and Joy Heintze started Greenock Creek Charter with one 50 passenger bus and one school run. Their children could not believe that their parents bought the vehicle that they had been catching to school for years.

Joy did the school run herself and – once her initial surprise at the length of the vehicle wore off – it wasn’t long before she got into the swing of it and enjoyed carting the students to and from school. Over the years the business grew to a fleet of six vehicles, and Greenock Creek Charter became the well-known and respected business is today. Eric and Joy started offering day trips for the local community, visiting places all over South Australia. These trips turned into tours which took locals all over Australia and New Zealand.

In 2001, they asked their daughter Ann if she would like to come and do a few hours of work each week. Ann jumped at the opportunity. She was a full-time mum to a premature baby, and this was a great outlet for her. Ann took her baby Caitlyn to work with her, which was a bonus for Joy as she got to see more of her granddaughter (and then her second granddaughter) as they grew up. After a few years Ann knew that when Eric and Joy decided to retire, she wanted to take over the business.

In 2018 Eric and Joy finally approached Ann with the news – and after a lengthy process Eric and Joy officially retired in 2020. Ann had really enjoyed the time with her mum, learning the ropes of the business from her. Joy and Eric helped shape who Ann is today as the new business owner.

Greenock Creek Charter employees ten staff, two full time in the office and eight casuals. Still keeping in the family, Ann’s two daughters Caitlyn and Cassandra work now in the office. They provide business support for their Mum and implement new and fresh ideas, just as Ann did for her parents. The fleet consists of 2 x 50 passenger vehicles, 3 x 57 passenger vehicles, 1 x 24 passenger vehicle and 1 x 7 passenger vehicle. Ann works with local businesses to for extra transport options when required.

It’s been over 30 years since that first school bus was purchased, and Greenock Creek Charter still looks after 3 daily school runs. Business was looking better than ever at the start of 2020. Ann had more wedding charters booked than ever before. There were daytrips coming up, and overnight tours to Mt Gambier, Yorke Peninsula and Kangaroo Island booked as well. Sadly, all of this has gone into hibernation with COVID-19.

One of Greenock Creek Charter’s successful initiatives is the ‘Buskateers’ group (formerly known as the Barossa Daytrippers), started by Eric and Joy in 1996. Ann sends a bi-monthly newsletter to the 300 group members, sharing information about upcoming concert trips, tours, day trips and local events. It creates a great sense of community and helps to get some of the older group members out of the house and interacting with the world. With COVID-19 restrictions currently lifting in SA, and local communities itching to get out and about, she’s hoping the group continues to grow and thrive.

Ann has been using the current ‘quieter time’ to contemplate new markets and is looking at future expansion of her business. With her genuine love of the industry, her business acumen, and her strongly held views on safety and business responsibility, we believe she’ll do brilliantly. Bus SA wholeheartedly wishes Ann great ongoing success.

Visit the website: www.greenockcreekcharter.com.

Latest from the Bus Industry Confederation (BIC)

Let’s keep the conversation going

Along with the current BIC work program dealing with COVID-19 issues and recovery plans, the BIC has been in a number of ongoing phone and video discussions with the federal government and various department heads, including:

  • Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Michael McCormack, Deputy PM and Minister for Transport
  • Dr Nick Coatsworth, Deputy Chief Medical Officer
  • Leigh Johns of the Fair Work Commission
  • Will Hodgman, Chair of the Australian Business Growth Fund
  • Andrew Liveris AO, Special Adviser to the National COVID 19 Coordination Commission (NCCC)
  • Greg Combet (NCCC), Commissioner for Employment, Labour Force and Industrial Relations and Manufacturing.

These discussions form an important informal communication pathway for ensuring the government hears our industry agenda.

Tourism Restart Taskforce

The Tourism Restart Taskforce, as a part of The Australian Chamber – Tourism (ACCI), is responsible for reporting to the federal government on tourism recovery from COVID-19. The BIC is an active member of the Tourism Chamber and is providing key advice and recommendations relating to the bus and coach industry and the return of cross-border travel. The taskforce has identified 3 key phases:

  1. hibernation
  2. immediate road out
  3. medium-long term recovery

The BIC has provided a bus and coach industry specific submission outlining the impacts and providing key recommendations which is available on the updated de-regulated bus sector report on the Industry Hub.

The BIC has also been hearing from members on current challenges in the coach sector of industry and has done a lot of work in the background, picking up feedback and providing it to government.

Even on “the hill” we have local issues on coach movement. The ABC News recently published an article on the impacts of COVID-19 and the tourism industry in Canberra and is sure to resonate Australia wide.

Manufacturing industry brief to Maintain-Grow-Export bus building in Australia

The BIC is currently working on a comprehensive bus and coach industry brief of the manufacturing and supply sector for politicians and jurisdictions. The BIC wants to see the manufacturing, affiliated suppliers and services maintain their self-sufficient strength, continuous improvement and economic value in the Australian marketplace.

The brief aims to provide recommendations and the mechanisms to generate employment, export opportunities and economic growth through an established, secure and strong Australian manufacturing base and skill set. Updates on the progression of the submission will be provided in due course.

BIC targets bus infrastructure in government recovery plans

A letter outlining a number of bus infrastructure projects from shovel ready to major works has been sent to federal and state ministers/shadow of transport, roads and infrastructure, state premiers, and capital city lord mayors.

These works will not only support bus public transport but can be key COVID-19 economic recovery and employment drivers.

The BIC has called for the formation of a project committee comprising industry, and public transport and infrastructure authorities and agencies in federal and state/territory governments. This committee would be responsible for identifying projects from the following categories:

  1. smart, sheltered and accessible bus stops
  2. integrated public transport mode stations
  3. bus layover and traffic light priority
  4. bus priority lanes
  5. bus rapid transit and bus rapid transit lite.

The BIC will be engaging with its bus operator members and state associations to provide input into specific ‘jobs’ in their areas of operation that fit into these 5 categories.

National Heavy Vehicle Regulator

BIC Executive Director, Michael Apps and Federal Assistant Minister for Road Safety, the Hon. Scott Buchholz have sent a letter from to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) Chief Executive Mr Sal Petroccitto addressing a proposal to develop a National Bus Safety Strategy.

The BIC has developed ten key national recommendations for government to ensure bus safety:

  1. a national minimum bus safety accreditation framework that is mutually recognised by all jurisdictions.
  2. a national bus safety data set that is collected by police and accident investigators that will better reflect what is happening on the road for accidents, injuries and fatalities involving buses, pedestrians and other vehicles.
  3. a national and uniform school bus safety signage and lighting standard and road user education program.
  4. a national bus specification safety standard for government contracted services.
  5. a national approach to seat belts on buses.
  6. a national approach to bus driver penalties and sanctions for driver abuse and violence.
  7. national standard for driver protection on buses and driver training in dealing with violence and abuse.
  8. a national bus stop standard for passenger security and protection.
  9. recognition of public transport as an essential service so no passengers are left behind as a result of industrial action.
  10. a national bus safety awareness campaign.

Removing the duplication over other states and territories and picking up on the great ideas already in place, a national package that addresses the myriad of issues that bus operators deal with on a daily basis that impact on road safety, driver safety, passenger, personal and community safety would be a logical solution.

And speaking of safety – it’s time to nominate!

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator are a fantastic supporter of the Safety Award, which is one of the categories in this year’s National Industry Awards. Get your nominations in by 5 October 2020. With the COVID-19 impacts and safety implementations in your workplace there are sure to be some great nominations in this category this year.

School buses and seatbelts

In an article recently published, regional NSW has announced that 150 regional NSW buses over 20 years of age will be fitted with seatbelts. The BIC does not support the carriage of standees on buses fitted with seat belts on government contracted services. This is based on the simple principle that no passenger should be afforded a lesser level of safety to travel.

Whilst Australian design rules do provide for the calculation of standees on buses, this does not in itself provide legal or public liability coverage for the operator, in the BIC’ s view, for the carriage of standees on a seat belted bus.

The BIC supports the carriage of standees on seat belted buses in the following circumstances:

  • emergency or evacuation such as bushfires or flood
  • not leaving a child behind at a bus stop when the seat belted bus service is full.

In relation to the latter circumstance, the bus operator and driver should be provided the legal discretion to pick up in this circumstance and this circumstance be recognised and recorded by the operator as a service exception which triggers a review for an extra bus service by the relevant government agency.

In the event of a standee travelling on a seat belted bus, the bus should be limited to travelling at a speed of 80km per hour.

Industrial relations news

Ian MacDonald, National Industrial Relations Manager APTIA

Everybody Out

The industry newsletter produced by the Australian Public Transport Industrial Association (APTIA), the industrial arm of the Bus Industry Confederation (BIC). See the May 2020 edition.

Also see this Q&A based on COVID-19 business-related questions that many in the industry have been asking.

Important industrial relations decisions

What is a ‘fair advance commitment’ for non-casual employment?

WorkPac Pty Ltd v Rossato

In a crucial ruling in the wake of the Skene judgment, a full Federal Court has ruled that coal mining worker Robert Rossato is a Workpac employee with leave entitlements.

Justices Mordy Bromberg, Richard White and Michael Wheelahan ruled in a 175-page judgment that the driver, during his engagement on six consecutive employment contracts over almost four years to April 2018, was a permanent Workpac employee entitled to paid annual, personal/carers and compassionate leave, plus payments for public holidays during Christmas shutdowns.

Labour hire company Workpac launched the Rossato case after it decided against appealing the landmark Workpac v Skene ruling. The full court reserved its decision in May last year (see Related Article), after the labour supplier sought a declaration that Rossato was a casual and therefore not owed additional leave entitlements in October 2018.

It filed the application soon after Justices Richard Tracey, Mordy Bromberg and Darryl Rangiah upheld Federal Circuit Court Judge Michael Jarrett’s 2016 ruling that mine driver Paul Skene was an employee, despite Workpac engaging him as a casual.

It confirmed that although Workpac’s offer of casual employment gave Skene “the status of ‘casual FTM'” with no annual leave entitlement under its agreement, his regular predictable working arrangements meant he was an employee entitled to benefits under s86 of the Fair Work Act.

Employers at the time warned of a “massive liability” due to potential “double-dipping”, with Ai Group foreshadowing that with at least 1.6 million casuals working on a regular, ongoing basis, back pay claims for annual leave could reach $8 billion.

Some also questioned Workpac’s decision to launch its case against Rossato, testing the same issues regarding the definition of a casual worker, instead of appealing the full court decision in Skene.

Adero Law argued it was an abuse of process in that it sought to re-agitate issues already dealt with. Adero last February filed a class action against Workpac seeking up to $84 million on behalf of lead applicant Matthew Petersen and between 7000 and 10,000 other casuals working for at least three months on regular and systematic rosters at black coal mines.

The CFMMEU filed a self-funded class action against Workpac last August, pursuing at least $12 million in unpaid annual leave entitlements on behalf of lead applicant Ben Renyard and about 600 “misclassified” casuals.

Justice Bromberg in September last year placed the two class actions on hold until after the full Federal Court hands down its judgement in the Rossato case.

The Federal Court also called pens down on other Adero class actions challenging Hays and Stellar Recruitment’s use of casual mineworkers in the black coal industry until the outcome in Rossato is known.

Refusal to take leave a breach of JobKeeper legislation

Ms Leonie McCreedy v Village Roadshow Theme Parks Pty Ltd

A stood down part-time employee receiving double her usual wage on the JobKeeper scheme unreasonably refused a request to use up one day’s annual leave each week over 16 weeks, the FWC has found.

In what is believed to be the first published ruling in the JobKeeper dispute jurisdiction – an appeal against a ruling on jurisdiction is set to be heard on Monday (see Related Article) – Commissioner Jennifer Hunt determined under the Fair Work Act’s Part 6-4C coronavirus economic response provisions that the Village Roadshow Theme Parks’ worker had no justification for spurning the request.

Concluding she could rely on s789GV(4)(d), empowering the tribunal to “deal with a dispute about the operation of [Part 6-4C . . . by making] any other order that the FWC considers appropriate”, the commissioner ordered the staff services department worker “not to continue to refuse the request made by her employer”.

Commissioner Hunt reached her decision after hearing evidence that after 22 years with the company, typically working two days a week, VRTP stood the employee down on March 23 and issued her a JobKeeper-enabling direction not to attend work.
With accrued annual leave of almost 10 weeks and nine weeks’ long service leave, she was subsequently asked to take one day a week annual leave until September 27, when the coronavirus provisions cease to take effect, or her leave balance had reduced to four days.

In bringing the matter before the Commission, the worker said she did not believe the legislation was intended to assist large employers such as VRTP use employees’ annual leave accruals to set-off against the federal government’s JobKeeper payments.

She also argued that the policy unfairly hit long-serving employees who had accrued significant leave. In her case, the leave balance had already been calculated as underpinning planned holidays, including a six-week trip to Europe in 2021.

In a letter to VRTP, the worker cited the additional factor of a medical condition and said the request had caused her “a great deal of angst in these already challenging and anxious times”.

In response, the company’s HR manager informed the worker that senior management had reviewed her request “and unfortunately it has been denied, as it does not meet our guidelines to unreasonably refuse our request to take leave”.

Noting at the outset that the worker was currently receiving $750 a week in JobKeeper payments when she was typically paid $375, Commissioner Hunt accepted also that she had not yet been granted approval for her planned holidays.

“I have had regard to the leave policy of VRTP, cautioning employees not to book trips or make payments prior to the leave being approved as it is not guaranteed,” she said. “VRTP has stated its intention to request of all relevant employees that they take annual leave of up to 2.5 days per week while in receipt of the JobKeeper payment.

“This is permitted, and in [the worker’s] case, she is requested to take annual leave at the rate of one day per week. “The Act requires that she must consider the request and must not unreasonably refuse the request. “I do not accept [her] submission that the requests made by VRTP to its relevant employees is unreasonable, or that the provisions are or should only be available to smaller employers, and not employers the size of VRTP.

“The Explanatory Memorandum does not support such a submission.” Instead, Commissioner Hunt said, she considered the worker had in the evidence made “incredibly unsympathetic, and in my view, belligerent and unwarranted attacks on VRTP, despite the JobKeeper provisions being available for all eligible employers, small or large”.

“The test is not, however whether VRTP has acted reasonably or unreasonably; it is whether [the worker] has unreasonably refused the request of VRTP. “In all the circumstances and noting that [the worker] anticipates requiring only four days’ annual leave for her proposed holidays in September and October 2020, I consider that her refusal of VRTP’s request is unreasonable.”

For more recent IR decisions, see  the May 2020 edition of Everybody Out.

On the website

NHVR’s relaunched Chain of Responsibility (CoR) Online Gap Assessment Tool now includes a new bus-specific version.

Don’t forget buses: six rules for improving city bus services, by Jason Byrne, University of Tasmania and Emma Pharo, University of Tasmania.

COVID-19 resources – help navigating available government assistance and emergency response advice. You’ll find information about JobKeeper, ATO administrative relief, links to all the government initiatives, how to get banking assistance, and mental health plans. Click here to visit the page.

News – a regularly updated area where we post the latest in bus industry news, policy, governance, thinking, and events. Please keep an eye on this page, it will be updated regularly. Click here to visit the page.