Yesterday, around 1,000 bus drivers and support staff issued noticed to their employer, NZ Bus owned by Infratil, that from Thursday they would be working to rule in protest over the company’s unacceptable pay offer.
Essentially, the company wants to combine several existing collective agreements by keeping the weakest elements of each. Sure, it’s offered pay rises on that collective but we’re talking drivers on as little as $14.05 an hour, significantly less than drivers at other Auckland bus companies get. In response to not being offered a fair deal, all these workers have done is say that they’ll only work to the letter of their contracts – no more free overtime, no more skipped health and safety procedures.
NZ Bus/Infratil’s response has been to lock them out. Effectively shutting down a good portion of Auckland’s bus network, which is a totally disproportionate response designed to scare the workers into submitting to the company’s offer. It’s part of a continuing trend of aggressive behaviour by some large companies – the fact that most of the recent disputes have been lockouts or redundancies, not strikes, tells you where the militancy is coming from.
It’s so needless. The unions have been able to settle with other bus companies for better deals without it getting to the stage of industrial action. But Infratil, like Telecom, like Air NZ, like Bridgeman Concrete, like Talleys, thinks it can use the recession and a National government as an excuse to play hardball with its workers.
Infratil will lose eventually, just like the bosses always do when facing a united workforce with fair demands. But in the meantime everyone suffers – the workers miss out on their pay, the company loses income, and the commuting public has to deal with no buses and clogged roads.
Update: No Right Turn asks a very good question:
What does it say about a business if they have to suspend operations if their workers conform to their contract and take their toilet breaks and refuse to drive defective vehicles?