Bus and Tram Express
Bus and Tram Express

FAQs for Tram and Bus Division members: COVID-19

Apr 17, 2020COVID19

Given the current situation is changing so quickly, with sometimes differing messages coming out of the various levels of government, staying abreast of the latest information can be difficult. 

Below is a handy list of frequently asked questions that we hope will assist you to navigate through these uncertain times. 

Of course, if you have any queries or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact your local delegate or the Tram and Bus Division office at nswbus@rtbu-nsw.asn.au or (02)9319 7277. 

The RTBU is in regular contact with the government and health officials, as well as our different employers. We are doing everything we can to ensure they’re putting your health and safety – and that of commuters – first. We’ll continue to keep you updated on any information that comes out of those talks via our regular communications channels: bulletins, newsletters etc. If you don’t receive these please contact the office and update your email details.

Thanks for everything you’re doing during this difficult period. The work you’re doing at the moment – and every day – is vital and your commitment to the people of this state is certainly not going unnoticed. 

Q. Can I access paid leave if I need to be isolated as a result of the coronavirus? 

A. Yes, what type of leave depends on what you have available. Special Leave depends on whether you’re a government or a private employee. 

This advice is changing constantly as Unions work to include as many people as possible under the umbrella of Special Leave.

Government Employees

Special leave is being made available if:

  1. If you ARE SICK from COVID-19; you must use your sick leave first and then Special Leave will apply.
  2. If you are NOT SICK but have been directed to not attend the workplace then you are entitled to uncapped (the time it can be claimed for) Special Leave. This includes self-isolating, caring for family members returning from overseas and caring for family members who are sick or are otherwise directed to self-isolate (for example, if the government moves to close schools etc). This also includes if you are directed not to attend a workplace because you are a vulnerable worker or over the age categories as set out by the government- https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/advice-for-people-at-risk-of-coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-older-people

If you are required to self isolate or test positive for the virus, the NSW Department of Health should provide paperwork to confirm. This in turn goes to your employer.

Private Company Employees

  1. Currently there is nothing that says private companies have to pay Special Leave, most are doing so or have agreed to, on a case-by-case basis in certain circumstances. The RTBU is working to have this extended to match the Public Sector leave arrangements while contract payments are being maintained by the government.
  2. If you get sick you have to use your sick leave.
  3. If you run out of sick leave then you have to use other types of leave.
  4. If no leave is available you can ask the employer for special consideration.

Q. At what rate is Special Leave paid?

The Government has advised that Special Leave is to be paid at base rate or according to the Agreement or Award that governs a workplace if that is more.

Q. What does ‘vulnerable’ mean in relation to who should self isolate?

Current advice for who fits criteria of ‘vulnerable’ can be found on the federal Department of Health website here- https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/advice-for-people-at-risk-of-coronavirus-covid-19
Members should be aware that this advice is subject to change. Anyone who does not fit the categories described by the Dept of Health but considers themselves at risk should contact the Union for advice.

Q. What does it mean to be ‘Stood Down’?

When a company no longer has work available, members can be ‘stood down’. This means that you will not be paid because you are not working. Leave entitlements can still be accessed and you are still on the books as an employee for when work becomes available.

Q. Will there be mass sackings?

No, the Government has committed to maintaining transport services at as close a level to normal as possible. They are aware that when the lock-down is eased, transport will be put under considerable strain as people travel again. To handle this expected increase in use, staffing levels have to be maintained. Private operators have halted recruitment for the moment.

Q. What happens when I run out of leave?

You can approach your employer for consideration but once paid leave has run out, unpaid leave must be taken.

Q. What is happening with Schools returning?

All schools return full time on Monday the 25th of May. We’ll be keeping a close watch on how it plays out.

Q. Are the RTBU offices closed? 

All RTBU staff and officials have remote access and mobile phones, which means we’ll be on deck regardless of any shutdowns enforced by the Government. 

This is an important time for our members – we’ll be on hand throughout it to advocate on your behalf and to answer any questions that may arise. 

While there is an option to do so legally, the Divisional Office at Redfern will be manned. While our members are working on the front lines we will be there to support them.

Q. How often are our buses and trams being cleaned?

Buses and trams of all fleets as well as all depots are being cleaned daily with appropriate chemicals. Some employers are cleaning trams and buses more than once a day.

All employees should have now been issued with hand sanitiser and/or wipes by their employer for when hand washing facilities are not available. 

Local management should be able to give you a detailed overview of cleaning at each depot your specific area.

Buses are also starting to be cleaned at terminus locations with two cleaning stations set up in Newcastle and a trial operating at Bondi Junction interchange in Sydney. Wynyard and Chatswood are also being looked at as potential locations for expanding this program.

Q. What happens if someone at work is confirmed with the virus?

Every employer the RTBU deals with have drawn up contingency plans to contain and trace any potential outbreak. Each employer will have done that in a slightly different way but regardless of how it’s accomplished, the Union will be fighting to make sure workers are not worse off.

Q. Can I wear a mask? Will I be given one?

For our members at CMET, the ACT Government has made masks available. For our NSW members, we are working on having a standard mask provided to employees, but the Dept of health is still saying the ‘General Advice’ applies to all workplaces. We have been pushing this issue from the very beginning and will continue to do so.

The RTBU has a limited supply of masks which we are currently distributing to Bus Operators first as they work in close proximity to people for an extended period of time. These masks have been made by volunteers and we also have had a donation of 10,000 surgical masks after the recent media and they are being distributed. Once we run out we’ll look at demand and get more if needed.

Q. How can I make sure I’m wearing my mask safely?

Click here to see a handy ‘how to’ guide.

Q. Will there be rear door loading on buses?

The RTBU has met with the State Transit Authority and gone through the Risk Assessment process in regards to rear door loading in the current environment. That process has made it clear that there is no way for WHS to sign off on rear door loading, even with so few passengers. If people make the decision to rear door load and someone gets hurts, they are fully responsible and would be open to legal action. For this reason the Union does not encourage the practice.

Q. What about people sitting too close together on Trams and Buses and not social distancing?

TfNSW have started putting stickers on seats to encourage people to voluntarily social distance. The Union considers this measure inadequate and is looking to have the excluded seats physically taped off. We do not need members being made the focal point for policing the general public. If accommodation cannot be reached on this issue as restrictions are eased then the union will consider other measures. member safety cannot be compromised.

Stickers notifying passengers of the new load limits of each bus are also being rolled out to be put on the outside near the doors.

We have also raised the use of recorded messages to social distance on trams, buses, and trains in NSW, which is now in place.


Q. Are people really getting fined fro spitting on transport workers?

TfNSW has confirmed with police that not only are people being fined but in some cases jailed. We recently saw a sentence of 6 weeks jail and currently one offender is being held in remand while awaiting trial.

TfNSW is working to minimise how many hands a report goes through before it gets to the police and them. Your reports are a vital part of combating this disgusting behaviour, so if something happens MAKE SURE YOU TELL YOUR EMPLOYER!

Q. How can workers guarantee they’ll be safe? 

As bus and tram drivers and other public facing workers know all too well, viral outbreaks (including the flu etc) are tough to avoid. There can never be a guarantee no driver will get sick. In fact, a lot most likely will – just like in the general population. 

While it may seem simple, we cannot stress enough the importance of transport workers following the general community health recommendations in regard to COVID-19. These include: 

  • Washing your hands regularly with soap and water. 
  • Using hand sanitiser when soap and water are not available 
  • Covering your sneeze or cough with your elbow of with a tissue. 
  • Avoiding touching your face.
  • Stay home if you’re sick. 

Q Is Passenger Transport an Essential Service?

Yes, according to the Essential Services Act- https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1988/41/part1/sec4. The Act must be proclaimed by the Governor to take effect and this has not happened. If it does, it means that every company, employee and union involved is at the direction of the NSW Government. There are extremely harsh penalties for non-compliance; think of it as a form of ultimate authority. Currently ‘essential services’ are being defined by the Department of Health and other agencies, which is why things are not so clear as to who is or isn’t an essential service.

Q. How can I stay up-to-date on the latest information? 

You can see the latest NSW Department of Health information here: 


With a constantly growing list of Frequently Asked Questions: 


As well as their online symptom checker tool:


Transport for NSW has also set up a dedicated website here: 


Q. What else do I need to know? 

Remember, the nature of the current situation means there are going to be questions that have no answers at this point; we are in uncharted territory. No one knows what the future is going to look like in some respects. 

What we can do is look after ourselves and our loved ones and try to remain vigilant, but as calm as possible. The work you’re doing is vital and is not going unnoticed. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your local delegate or the Division office.