Canberrans face a chaotic and unprecedented return to work and school following the Anzac Day weekend on April 27, with all ACT public servants taking a day off on Monday and tens of thousands of students left without school buses.
Though government school students can look forward to an extra day of holidays after their two-week term 1 break, non-government students will need to attend classes as usual on Monday, April 27. But the government confirmed on Tuesday that there would be no school buses to service them.
ACTION buses have had to scramble to provide a "Saturday" service for the day so as not to leave students and other commuters completely stranded. All services on that day will be free "to help offset disruption", according to Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury.
The lack of communication on arrangements for students has infuriated non-government schools with both the Catholic and independent school peak bodies accusing the government on Tuesday of mishandling the transportation arrangements for up to 28,000 children.
The issue is the result of Anzac Day falling on a Saturday this year and a long-standing provision to provide ACT government workers with the Monday off in lieu of an Anzac Day public holiday.
The last time Anzac Day fell on a Saturday was in 2009. But that year, the public holiday was gazetted for the following Monday. This year, which is also the centenary of Anzac, the ACT Government has decided Anzac Day will be marked with a public holiday on April 25. When Anzac Day falls on a Sunday, as it did in 2010, the following Monday is automatically gazetted as a public holiday under the Holidays Act.
Mr Rattenbury confirmed there would be no dedicated school services to non-government schools that day and parents were "encouraged to make alternative arrangements to get their children to and from school if they normally rely on dedicated school runs".
"Unfortunately, the current ACTION enterprise agreement is such that staff rostering on weekends and designated holidays is undertaken on a voluntary basis. We have been working with staff and unions for several weeks in order to determine the number of staff willing to work on this day, and thus the level of service we are able to provide.
"To their credit, 200 staff have indicated a willingness to work that day."
A normal Monday operation requires 670 drivers.
ACTION would operate an extra 900 and 950 Rapid services - equivalent to the weekday Red and Blue Rapids.
Meanwhile, the ACT government would offer to provide "traffic management support to non-government schools worried about an increase in vehicle traffic resulting from parents transporting their children to and from school."
The Director of Catholic Education for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn Moira Najdecki said it was an unacceptable situation.
"Despite being involved in meetings and communications for the past month in regard to how many buses would be provided on April 27, I learned late this afternoon that there would be no non-government school services available on that day.
"The 29 Catholic System schools have over 14,000 students, who have been told by Minister Rattenbury that they must make their own way to school. This is a very late, poorly thought-through and badly communicated decision which will affect thousands of families. April 27 is not a public holiday, it is a public service holiday. And it is most unfair f[that] families of children in Catholic schools will be so seriously inconvenienced."
The Association of Independent Schools of the ACT said that three of 18 independent schools, including Blue Gum, Covenant Christian School and Orana, had decided to close on the Monday because of the public transport problems they faced.
Chief executive Andrew Wrigley said the lack of appropriate warning or provision of adequate bus services put non-government schools in a "terrible situation".
Independent schools also cater for about 14,000 students, and Mr Wrigley said: "Given that 55 per cent of school patrons travel on normal route services to get to and from school, this combination would not provide certainty for school students who usually travel on buses."
Meanwhile, parents whose children attend government schools will need to find alternative supervision for their children although some schools were expected to offer an additional day of school holiday care.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr confirmed that though the ACT Public Sector enterprise agreements provided staff with a substitute holiday, April 27 would not be declared a public holiday in the ACT - "which is in line with other jurisdictions".
Despite the irate representations from non-government schools, Mr Barr said: "As with all other holiday periods in Canberra, the ACT Government has made arrangements to minimise disruption to the community and to ensure all emergency response services are maintained. We have also been working with staff and unions for several weeks to ensure government services are maintained."
These included Canberra Connect, health services and municipal services.
"In the coming weeks, ACT Government Directorates will be communicating trading hours and changes in services for Easter, Anzac Day and Monday, April 27, with the community," Mr Barr said.