Exploding gas bus sparks safety dispute as union ordered back to work
GOVERNMENT bus drivers will continue to operate vehicles their union says are possible ''ticking time bombs'' after the Industrial Relations Commission last night directed them back to work following snap industrial action yesterday.
While the Rail, Tram and Bus Union accepted the direction and services will return to normal this morning, the union says it still has concerns about at least 254 gas buses. ''We will abide by the independent umpire but our concerns have not been addressed,'' the division secretary of the RTBU, Chris Preston, told the Herald last night.
''I would have thought that State Transit would themselves keep these buses off the road … obviously State Transit has no real concerns about public safety,'' Mr Preston said.
An image of the bus on fire.
A dispute between the authority and the union erupted yesterday afternoon when the union told members to refuse to drive 700 gas-powered buses, about a third of the government bus fleet.
The union claimed the authority had not informed it about the progress of investigations into why a Mercedes-Benz 0500 CNG bus caught fire in the south-east Sydney suburb of Hillsdale on July 29.
When the union received a video of the flaming bus from a member of the public yesterday, it said, it became so concerned it ordered the withdrawal from service of all gas-powered buses, not just the Mercedes model.
The government immediately responded by saying it thought the buses were safe, and blamed the industrial action on a breakdown in wage negotiations.
The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, said she was ''disgusted'' by the union's actions and that State Transit had been conducting weekly checks on Mercedes buses.
The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, said: ''We are confident those buses have been inspected and that there isn't a problem.''
Correspondence between State Transit and the union dated August 12, obtained by the Herald, shows the Mercedes buses had been closely monitored prior to February following ''thermal incidents involving this particular model of vehicle''.
After the fire, which left the chassis a charred skeleton, a Mercedes fire investigator flew in from Germany. But the union says it has had no information about the progress of the investigation.
An Office of Transport Safety Investigations inquiry into the incident remains open.
Peak hour commuters who spoke to the Herald near Central Station last night were mostly unaware of any changes to their buses and said running times and crowds were about normal.
There were some delays on Elizabeth Street. Milton Gan, waiting for a bus to Bondi after 6pm, said there were many more people waiting than usual, but he did not know why.
''I was really surprised when I saw everyone standing here.''
The STA and the union will return to the IRC today.