MIGRANT BUS DRIVERS face greater risk including racial abuse and violence from passengers
Melbourne, November 16: Unprovoked assaults are becoming a regular feature on public transport in Victoria.
According to police reports lodged in the recent past, increasing number of passengers and drivers are being assaulted by other passengers, either in an intoxicated state or due to fare evasion reasons.
In many cases, assaults have been specially directed at drivers, mainly for fare disputes.
According to the Transport Workers Union, ticketing issues have surged after MYKI in 2013, with assaults, verbal threats and aggressive behaviour.
TWU members have been exposed to a growing number of “assaults and threatening behaviour from passengers,” Mike McNess of TWU said.
“The catalyst for these attacks is passengers being requested to touch on their myki,” he said.
Transport Safety Victoria figures showed that it has surged since 2011, with 102 reported physical attacks and 33 verbal attacks, since then.
Number of reported assaults on bus drivers in the state has surged in a situation where a bus driver may be assaulted more than once a month, on average.
But industry analysts say the true number is much higher, because one-third of drivers never report incidents of abuse, according to a 2015 survey on aggression towards bus drivers.
“Thus official data on aggressive incidents is likely to underestimate the extent of aggression,” the commissioned report said.
Following the shocking murder with an incendiary device, of bus driver Manmeet Alisher, in Brisbane last month; physical assaults which would usually go unreported, are being reported for in Victoria.
There is panic amongst Melbourne bus drivers and grave concerns for their lives, while simply doing their job – an essential service for the community.
Transport Workers Union thus, rallied on the steps of Parliament, Tuesday, demanding protection and increased safety while they work.
John Berger, Transport Workers Union Victoria/Tasmania Branch Secretary asked the gathering: “Does anyone really think they need the stress of worrying that some thug is just about to spit in their face, knock them unconscious, hold a knife to their throat or burn them as they sit in their chair?”
Berger reiterated that attacks are being “shrugged off as an occupational hazard”, including random punches on drivers.
Many drivers complained of ‘refusal to pay’ by passengers, and any request for swiping MYKI, would most definitely escalate to violent behaviour.
Bus drivers are employed by private contractors for Public Transport Victoria and all drivers are duty-bound to ask passengers to swipe their MYKI.
While TWU issued a notice for drivers to “decide for themselves whether to request customers touch on”; biggest bus operator, Ventura threatened to take disciplinary action, and / or deduct wages who did not ask passengers to swipe.
“There is no basis for this instruction to be issued to drivers and, if employees follow the direction such action would amount to unlawful industrial action as defined by the Fair Work Act”, the Ventura notice read.
Unprovoked assaults recorded against bus drivers include injuries like:
- black eye,
- bruised ribs,
- bruised eyeball,
- knife being held to the throat,
- knocked unconscious and kicked after, and
- stabbed with a pin.
A large proportion of bus driving work-force being of migrant background including Indian, become easy targets for racial abuse by passengers in inebriated state or otherwise.
Michael Singh, who works in Melbourne’s west, said that some passengers while not aggressive in their behaviour can be “verbally violent and brutal”, which leads to demoralising effect amongst drivers.
But Singh himself has had to weather more than just verbal abuse. A lit cigarette was thrown at him, because he asked the passenger to swipe his MYKI. He was then called a ‘black b******’.
Another migrant driver Chaminda Kulasooriya had liquor poured over him by a violent female passenger, due to an argument about stopping the bus near a shopping centre in Melbourne’s east.
Kulasooriya said that drivers “should have the right to a safe workplace,” rather than putting themselves through such violence every time they went out to work.
BUS Drivers rallying at Parliament, campaigned
- against ‘ticketing responsibilities’ and
- for ‘safety barriers installed between passengers and drivers’, to avoid the risk of an assault when asking passengers to swipe.
TWU is calling for screens to become mandatory before new Public Transport (PTV) contracts are issued. The union is also calling on the Andrews government for funding to be provided for existing bus fleets.
Chris Lowe, Bus Association chief executive, said the association has not had much success in lobbying the Andrews government, for harsher penalties against those who assaulted drivers.