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 relatively stable, staying abreast of the latest information has become a bit easier. 

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 Divisional 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 the different employers. We are doing everything we can to ensure they’re putting your health and safety first, followed by the health and safety of commuters. 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 your delegate or the office to 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. 

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 and Special Leave also applies.

Private Company Employees

  1. Currently there is nothing that says private companies have to pay Special Leave.
  2. If you get sick you have to use your sick leave.
  3. If you run out of sick leave then you can apply for the government Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment. For more details follow this link- https://tinyurl.com/y3f6ttmw

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-


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. All unions have been lobbying for the government to continue paying contracted companies as normal, so they can pay their staff as normal. As we’ve seen, the government has not cut services even when patronage is greatly reduced. This means our members have work.

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 start to travel again. To handle this expected increase in use, staffing levels have to be maintained. Most operators had reduced recruitment but that is slowly increasing.

Q. Are the RTBU offices closed or working from home? 

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 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 being sanitised at the below terminus locations:

Bondi Junction– Mon – Fri 7am – 7pm – Sat/Sun: 10am-3pm

Parramatta– Mon –  Fri 7am – 6pm – Sat/Sun: 10am-3pm

Wynyard– Mon –  Fri 7am – 6pm – Sat: 10am-3pm

Chatswood– Mon –  Fri 7am – 6pm – Sat: 10am-3pm

Epping– Mon –  Fri 7am – 6pm – Sat: 10am-3pm

Circular Quay– Mon –  Fri 7am – 6pm – Sat: 10am-3pm

Burwood– Mon –  Fri 7am – 6pm – Sat: 10am-3pm

Macquarie Park– Mon –  Fri 7am – 6pm – Sat: 10am-3pm

Newcastle– Mon –  Fri 7am – 6pm – Sat: 10am-3pm

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?

All employers have masks available for employees who request them.

Q. Do I have to wear a mask?

At this time masks are not mandatory, which also means they are not formal PPE. Because of this there is no set standard for masks, unlike hand sanitiser. Most workers in the Tram and Bus space are physically distanced from customers most of the time, so the union has not been pushing for masks to be made compulsory for members.

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. TfNSW agrees and 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 continued putting stickers on seats to encourage people to voluntarily social distance. We do not need members being made the focal point for policing the general public and are trying to have the work instruction from TfNSW made more clear.

Stickers notifying passengers of the new load limits of each bus are also on the outside of the bus near the front doors, and apps that show how crowded a bus or tram is are using the new load limits in their calculations.


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

TfNSW has confirmed with police that not only are people being fined but in some cases jailed. We saw a sentence of 6 weeks jail and cases of individuals being held in remand before hearings.

TfNSW has minimised 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 call it in, tell your employer as well as your delegate. The union needs to keep policing the procedures so that companies are doing the right thing.

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 at some point in the future – 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 General 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 marshal law. 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; 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.