A planned strike that would see 1200 bus drivers walk off the job all day on Thursday may not go ahead, after the NSW government applied for an emergency hearing in the Industrial Relations Commission on Wednesday night.
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The NSW Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) announced the strike on Wednesday evening as a protest against the government’s plan to privatise bus services in the city’s south and inner west.

It was due to begin at midnight and last for for 24 hours.

However, Transport for NSW applied for an urgent hearing at the Industrial Relations Commission, which was heard at 8pm on Wednesday. A government spokeswoman said the IRC reviewed the evidence and found the strike to be illegal, ordering the drivers to work as normal.

The union did not immediately respond to questions on whether the strike would still go ahead.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said he welcomed the order from the Industrial Relations Commission and expects the union to comply.

“I hope drivers ignore the union bosses’ reckless behaviour,” Mr Constance said. “Anyone who takes part in an illegal strike will not be paid.

“I implore all STA drivers to come to work tomorrow, because their customers need to get to school and to work on time.”

Mr Constance said contingency measures will still be put in place for Thursday “to ensure our city is not inconvenienced”.

When the industrial action was announced, the RTBU said it was a reaction to Mr Constance’s “betrayal” of commuters and transport workers in privatising bus routes.

A total of 1200 public bus drivers were due to stop work, affecting four depots which would be privatised under Mr Constance’s plan.

The strike would affect bus services that run from the Leichhardt, Burwood, Kingsgrove and Tempe depots, including all school buses in southern Sydney and the inner west.

Transport for NSW said students would be able to travel for free on other forms of public transport when they displayed their Student Opal Card. Parents and students were advised to go to transportnsw.info to see if their route was affected.

A map provided by the union showed the strike would impact a huge chunk of the city, from Sans Souci to Silverwater and from Glebe to Strathfield, encompassing important arterial roads and the Anzac Bridge.

The Transport Management Centre said routes impacted were the 401, 406, 407, 408, 412, 413, 415, 418, 422, 423, 425, 426, 428, 430, 431, 433, 436, 437, 438, 439, 440, 441, 442, 444, 445, 460, 461, 462, 463, 464, 466, 470, 473, 476, 477, 478, 479, 480, 483, 487, 490, 491, 492, 493, 495, 502, 504, 508, 526, L23, L28, L37, L38, L39, M20, M30, M41, X04 and X25.

Routes 438 and 461 would operate a “limited and modified service” along Parramatta Road from 6am to 10am and 3pm to 7pm, in the direction of the peak only.

Those using route 400 from Bondi Junction to Burwood, which is used to travel to Sydney Airport, were advised to catch the train instead.

A Transport Management Centre spokesman said people should catch trains or the light rail, or “make arrangements with employers to work flexibly” to deal with the “significant” disruption.

“Road users and public transport customers across the network are advised to allow plenty of additional travel time during peak periods as traffic is expected to be heavier than usual and patronage on other modes of transport will be increased,” the spokesman said.

Chris Preston, the secretary of the RTBU’s bus division, said the privatisation announcement which spurred the strike was made despite workers being assured in writing in December that their bus routes would remain in public hands.

He said drivers are “deeply apologetic” about inconveniencing commuters, but they felt compelled to respond to the “outrageous attack” on public transport.

“There is one person to blame for this stoppage and that is Minister Constance,” Mr Preston said. “With no warning, no consultation and against explicit undertakings, he has placed the future of 1,200 bus drivers and depot staff in limbo.

“This action is our members’ initial response to this outrageous action.”

Mr Preston said members of the public should make alternative arrangements to get to work and school, and urged Premier Gladys Berejiklian to intervene in the situation immediately.

“Minister Constance needs to understand that you cannot treat the community and public transport workers with such contempt,” he said. “We call on the Premier to intervene as a matter of urgency and put a stop to this attack on our public transport network.”

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Essendon is poised to make a bigger than expected dint in the club’s $9 million debt after breaking membership and attendance records over the first third of the AFL season.
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Essendon has reached its membership target of 65,000, well past its previous membership record of 61,317 set in 2015, an achievement chief executive Xavier Campbell called “an incredible and historic moment for our club”.

“We believe we are heading in the right direction, our team is playing an exciting brand of football, and it’s great to see our members back enjoying their football again,” Campbell said on Wednesday.

But those members are also paying more than lip service to that support, with the Bombers currently averaging home crowds of 66,000, which is more than 9000 ahead of the next best-drawing club, Collingwood.

While a draw featuring the Anzac Day blockbuster against Collingwood and an opening clash with old foe Hawthorn have helped, Essendon have drawn home crowds of 78,000, 87,600, 44,000 and last Saturday night against Geelong, 57,000.

After breaking the 65,000 membership target, the club has planned a series of thank yous and giveaways to its fan base at Sunday’s Etihad Stadium game against West Coast.

Essendon had budgeted for a $1.2 million profit this year after last year’s whopping $9.8 million loss. But the stronger-than-expected support, despite a middling win-loss record of 4-4, has the Bombers hopeful of potentially even doubling that amount.

“Based on our initial budget position, we feel like we’re well-placed to deliver a better profit and pay down of our debt later this year,” Campbell said. “Having such a significant debt hasn’t rested that well with a lot of us, and it’s something we want to ensure we get on top of sooner rather than later.”

The $9.8 million loss last year came as the club counted the legal costs of the supplements scandal, leaving a traditionally well-off club with a debt of more than $9 million.

The loss took in player compensation claims and legal fees of $4.5 million, $1.5 million spent on short-term contracts for players in order to field an AFL team after the suspension of a dozen players by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, $3.1 million of lost revenue and gate takings, and another $806,000 as the club wrote off assets at their old home ground of Windy Hill.

Essendon has determined to rebrand itself in the aftermath of the scandal, and is also paying more than lip service to its attempt to be the most inclusive club in the AFL.

To that end, on Wednesday evening, the club marked IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia Biphobia and Transphobia) with a “Red and Black Pride Night”, hosted by gay coterie group the Purple Bombers, along with the Essendon Women’s Network and The Long Walk, addressed by former coach Kevin Sheedy, along with former Olympian and Federal MP Nova Peris.

Sunday’s home game will be preceded by an AFL 9s match between the Purple Bombers and their West Coast equivalent.

Essendon players have had awareness training this week, as well as taking to the training track in specially-designed rainbow guernseys to mark the occasion. On Sunday, the side will run out with the Purple Bombers forming a guard of honour. Campbell said the club was proud of the steps it was taking towards embracing equality.

“Sport is a great facilitator of awareness, but also, if you really approach it meaningfully, change,” he said. “We’re not an expert in everything, but we’re in a fortunate position where we can canvas those areas.

“And for us being inclusive means that we’re accessible, and it means that our supporters feel comfortable and safe in supporting our club, no matter their race, religion or background.

“We want to reflect the multicultural society that is Australia now, and when it comes to sexual orientation, we want equality. We’ve been pushing that hard as a football club, and it’s just another part of the inclusiveness to which we are referring.”

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