The following letter was written by an Adelaide tram driver, and has been sent to the Directors Torrens Connect (the private operators of the Adelaide Tram network).
This is something quite out of my comfort zone, but something I feel needs to be addressed.
I have been employed by Torrens Connect as a tram driver for nearly three years. I hold qualifications as a tradesman, have a Certificate 3 in management and ran a small business employing 30 people for ten years. My tram driving life started during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I was one of the many with a new career due to impact of the COVID restrictions. Working in the transport industry is something I would have never imagined myself doing before COVID struck.
My time at Torrens Connect has been an eye opener in many ways. Initially I found a diverse group of 90 or so drivers from different background, education levels and cultures, who respected each other and the company they worked for. Over the past two years, however, there has been a swing both in the culture of the company and the morale among drivers. I think it’s true to say drivers feel that they are treated as a liability to the company, not an asset. The frustration with how drivers are treated is evident in the number of drivers who have been involved in the recent industrial actions.
Drivers, as a whole, are fed up being told they earn good money for what they do - because it is simply not true. Our base wage of around $65,000 a year is just an average wage. Drivers are able to earn more, but only because of the sacrifices they make – such as working on a rotating roster, working on weekends, split days off, working on public holidays, late nights, early mornings. foregoing family time, missing important events and kids sport, and not being able to commit to anything on a regular basis.
The idea (being promoted by some) that drivers are a militant unionised bunch is plainly ridiculous. The reality is that most of us have never been in a union before – let alone involved in any sort of industrial action. But union membership within the workforce gradually increased as our conditions got worse and as morale dropped.
We want what everyone in the modern workforce is aspiring to: a decent work-life balance, with a chance of some sort or regularity, and fair pay that keeps pace with the rising cost of living. If your business is serious about its people and culture this needs to be addressed. Working 11- or 12-day fortnights to make ends meet should be a thing of the past, not a necessity.
Management refer to demands on drivers as a ‘lifestyle roster’, or being ‘flexible'. Perhaps it used to be that way – when drivers could swap shifts or give shifts away - but over the past two years there have been barely enough drivers to do the rostered work. This actually means zero flexibility, more work and effectively less pay (given the ever-growing cost of living).
When I was in business our ethos was to listen, evolve and improve. This is something I would like to see embraced at AMO / Torrens Connect. You have a great workforce with a good work ethic, a passion for the role they play in the community, with incredible operational knowledge - they should be listened to, not ignored.
Finally, these are not just the random thoughts on one isolated driver. I know that my concerns and my aspirations for this business are shared by my fellow workers.
An Adelaide tram driver