A newly qualified ACTION bus driver earns $5,000 more annually than a first-year doctor, despite only requiring 18 days’ formal training.

The startling wage comparison comes as the Transport Workers Union is locked in a dispute with the ACT Government over a new enterprise bargaining agreement and from tomorrow starts a seven-day ban on collecting fares.

The union is opposed to reducing the ratio of full-time drivers and the number of transport officers, which they fear will lead to a drop in conditions.

But the Sunday Canberra Times can reveal that a newly qualified ACTION bus driver earns $59,272 per annum after completing an 18-day training program and a six-month probation period. A probationary driver earns $53,245 at $26.85 an hour.

The average ACTION driver earns about $75,000 a year and it is understood that some earn more than $100,000

Meanwhile, university educated professionals attract a more modest wage.

After seven years’ university study, a highly trained first-year medical graduate attracts $54,022 from ACT Health.

A teacher with the ACT Department of Education is paid $53,703 per annum, while a registered nurse with three years’ university training brings in $50,607.

Firefighters ($55,819), police officers ($45,554) and paramedics ($48,306) in their first year on the job risk their lives to protect the community for less.

But union Canberra sub-branch secretary Klaus Pinkas said drivers deserved the pay packet.

“Drivers have the responsibility for 100 school kids in an articulated bus, so you would argue you’d want someone who is well paid and knows what they’re doing,” Mr Pinkas said. “YOu don’t want any old nong in control of that situation so I would argue they should get paid a hell of a lot more for what they do.”

“If things go wrong with a firefighter, well it’s a problem, but if things go wrong with a bus driver you could have 100 dead kids.”

“If they have your kid in their bus then there is [no job] out there with more responsibility than those guys.”

ACTION acting general manager James Roncon said drivers have been offered a 4.75 per cent wage increase over two years as part of the current negotiations.

“They’re on a pretty good wicket,” Mr Ronson said.

“By industry standards across Australia and as far as benchmarking goes, our drivers are the best paid and have some of the best conditions and entitlements in Australia. The changes we seek are not designed to eat into that at all. We’re not talking about taking money away from them, we’re talking about increasing their salaries. At the end of this process, come what may, our drivers will still be the highest paid in the sector.”

But Mr Pinkas said the industrial dispute was not about money and there had been no discussion of pay increase with ACTION.

The disagreement centered on changed conditions, particularly altering the part-time to full-time driver ratio.

“A lot of part-timers work 50 or 60 hours a week but their base is 20 to 25 hours, so they only accrue superannuation and annual leave on that basis,” he said.

“Changing the ratio, having more part timers, will reduce ACTIONs superannuation and annual leave liability. This is about them trying to reduce the conditions for drivers and we’re trying to look after drivers, who want to move to full-time work. I’m involved in other negotiations with the ACT Government and ACTION is the only agreement where they want to reduce conditions.’

Source: Sunday Canberra Times, 23 May 2010. Written by Michael Inman.

This page was last updated on 24 July 2010

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