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Heavy-handed tactics from NZ Bus

Written By: - Date published: 2:00 pm, September 7th, 2009 - 27 comments
Categories: public transport, workers' rights - Tags: ,

Auckland bus drivers have been in negotiations with NZ Bus (which is owned by Infratil) for a 70 cent an hour pay rise. Currently, they’re on between $14.05 and $16.75 an hour for 13-hour shifts. Many workers are on split shifts, which means up to four hours a day of unpaid time between shifts.

Negotiations have reached an impasse. The bosses have offered a 3.5% raise with the condition that the workers must agree to only 3% next year and 3.4% the year after. The workers want 4.2% and no pre-decided out-year agreement. The extra cost to the company of going to 4.2% would be pretty small. There’s about 800 workers involved, if they’re all full time (many won’t be) the cost of going to 4.2% would be about $160,000 by my reckoning. Peanuts to Infratil, a company that last year made $77 million, an after-tax return to shareholders of 18%, and could afford to pay its CEO $1,010,000 but it would make an important difference to these workers and their families.

The workers announced they would ‘work to rule’. All that means is they would not work beyond the terms of their contract and would follow workplace rules, like health and safety rules, to the letter, rather than working free overtime and cutting corners for the company. Incredibly, NZ Bus has declared it can’t function without workers who bend the rules and work free overtime, so it has responded with a notice that it will lock-out the workers.

Let’s get this clear. The workers want to work. They are merely saying they will work to rule. In answer, NZ Bus is threatening to lock them out and bring the bus system to a standstill, resulting in commuter chaos for Auckland. All to avoid going a little further on their pay offer.

Coming off the back of NZ Bus’ lockout of Wellington bus drivers last year a strong pattern is starting a emerge. This is a company sucking on the public teat to the tune of millions a year, yet unwilling to share with its workforce or even negotiate in good faith. Ultimately it’s the public who pay the price.

I reckon it’s time we recognised NZ Bus for the corporate bludgers they are brought our public transport back under public control, where it belongs.

27 comments on “Heavy-handed tactics from NZ Bus ”

  1. StephenR 1

    The workers announced they would ‘work to rule’. All that means is they would not work beyond the terms of their contract and would follow workplace rules, like health and safety rules, to the letter, rather than working free overtime and cutting corners for the company. Incredibly, NZ Bus has declared it can’t function without workers who bend the rules and work free overtime, so it has responded with a notice that it will lock-out the workers.

    The notice on the bus today said that the bus drivers are striking from wednesday for what is essentially an indefinite amount of time because the pay offer is too low. Is that a union notice or an Infratil notice? Wish i’d looked a bit closer…So is your post a bit out of date – doesn’t mention any strike action or lock-outs as actually having been declared when obviously something has been decided by someone…somewhere.

    • snoozer 1.1

      It’s not a strike. It’s a lock out. Infratil/NZ Bus must be lying if they say it’s a strike and counting on people not knowing the difference.

      In this press release, NZ Bus (without using the words) makes it clear they are the ones cancelling the buses and locking out the workers:

      http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/AK0909/S00086.htm

      The post is right because the lock out hasn’t started yet, at the moment it’s only a notice of intention to lock out on Wednesday.

  2. Eddie 2

    Press release from the union said work to rule. If the notice was on the bus then chances are it was a company notice. I imagine they’re trying to conflate “low-level industrial action” (ie work to rule) with “strike action” – technically it is, but not in the way most people understand it.

    Of course it’s possible the situation’s changed since I last looked into it, but nine times out of ten in cases like this it’s the company lying to the public to justify its position.

    [Or, as snoozer points out, the comapny is referring to its own lockout and dishonestly calling it a strike to try and put the blame onto the workers.]

  3. StephenR 3

    It’s not a strike. It’s a lock out. Infratil/NZ Bus must be lying if they say it’s a strike and counting on people not knowing the difference.

    Perhaps best to take everything i say with a grain of salt until I read the poster again!

    I know my impression was that it was a strike though.

    cheers

  4. indiana 4

    “Negotiations have reached an impasse. The bosses have offered a 3.5% raise with the condition that the workers must agree to only 3% next year and 3.4% the year after. The workers want 4.2% and no pre-decided out-year agreement.”

    Sounds like a pretty good offer…risk of only getting 4.2% this year is that you may not be able to negotiate the same in year 2 or 3. Also you only may get 4.2% that only lasts six months as you may not get anything backdated. At least with the company offer you know what your going to get for the next 2 years. I hope the majority of the members understand what the risks are. I hope these guys have good union orgainsers that can explain things carefully and not allow the minority few to coerce others.

    “could afford to pay its CEO $1,010,000”

    If it were that easy, Andrew Little et al would have made CEO at several different companies, right?

    • Eddie 4.1

      There’s clawbacks involved in the company’s offer. Unions are run democratically, by definition it’s a majority decision.

      • indiana 4.1.1

        What are the clawbacks?

        In my experience, the union members that are inexperienced or unable to express their views – in most cases have their views suppressed by the vocal members are not served well by the union organisers. Snoozer talks about “union” people want to serve their members, but I’ve often seen these people sit on the side and not serve their members by hearing everyones views or encouraging everyone to have their view heard.

    • snoozer 4.2

      I don’t think the EPMU has many members involved, it’s mostly the Tramways Union, whose executive are also bus drivers as far as I understand.

      Irregardless, maybe “Andrew Little et al” don’t want to be CEOs, maybe they want to serve working people to help them get better pay and conditions. A union secretary is responsible for the running of an organisation in a many comparable to a CEO and they have to be annually relected to the position by a democratic vote.. hardly a cakewalk.

      • Daveo 4.2.1

        Bulk of the members are Akarana and the Auckland Tramways, they’ll be doing the running on this. EPMU might have a couple of engineers, that’d be it.

      • indiana 4.2.2

        If there was such a thing as a Union for CEO’s run by people who want to, as you put it “serve working people to help them get better pay and conditions”. Would you hold them in the same regard as those representing people in non CEO roles?

        • Daveo 4.2.2.1

          There is a union for CEOs, it’s called the Business Roundtable. They’ve also got Business NZ, the Employers and Manufacturers Association and the Federated Farmers.

          And yes, we oppose them, because their class interests are directly opposed to ours.

          • indiana 4.2.2.1.1

            Are they a registered union…what are their fees?

            • Daveo 4.2.2.1.1.1

              They’re registered as incorporated societies I’d imagine. All of them charge membership fees.

              The EMA in particular mirrors the role of a union, but for employers – it provides employment relations advice, gives legal representation, advocates for its members’ interests in employment policy and negotiates collective agreements.

              I honestly can’t believe this is news to you. Are you dim or something?

            • indiana 4.2.2.1.1.2

              Daveo, I asked if there was a union that represented CEO’s…so far you haven’t said that there is except for a bunch of organisations that supposedly “mirror” the role of a union. The EMA in my view provide paid professional services, very different from a an organisation that “serves” their members.

            • Daveo 4.2.2.1.1.3

              They’re a union of businesses that perform the same functions as a trade union. That was your question, and I gave you your answer – yes, the bosses do have unions.

            • Killinginthenameof 4.2.2.1.1.4

              Fees? your soul and dignity.

  5. lprent 5

    I read the herald article. The unions said they would work to rule.

    The company said that if that happened, that they would lockout the workers.

    The notice was put up by the company. It said that the unions were striking.

    The company is grossly and gratiously lying

  6. lukas 6

    Never thought the day would come that I would agree with a union… seems like the bus drivers are in the right here, especially when one compares the wages of the CEO with the difference in what the workers are looking for.

    Good post.

  7. StephenR 7

    …especially when one compares the wages of the CEO with the difference in what the workers are looking for.

    Wouldn’t using that metric justify pretty much every payrise ever requested?

  8. StephenR 8

    I read the herald article. The unions said they would work to rule.

    The company said that if that happened, that they would lockout the workers.

    What part of our law allows lockouts for working to contract (that’s what ‘work to rule’ is, right)?

    • Daveo 8.1

      The Employment Relations Act.

      s.83 Lawful strikes and lockouts related to collective bargaining

      Participation in a strike or lockout is lawful if the strike or lockout-
      (a) is not unlawful under section 86; and
      (b) relates to bargaining—
      (i) for a collective agreement that will bind each of the employees concerned; or
      (ii) with regard to an aspect of a collective agreement in respect of which the right to strike or lock out, as the case may be, is available under a declaration made by the court under section 192(2)(c).

      http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2000/0024/latest/DLM59974.html#DLM59974

  9. StephenR 9

    Thanks. So it ‘relates to bargaining’ I suppose. Presumably they couldn’t get locked out if one day they just decided to ‘work to rule’ for a change.

    • Daveo 9.1

      Yeah, industrial action (strikes or lockouts) can only take place during bargaining for a new collective agreement, or on health and safety grounds (but I’ve never seen an example of this myself).

      I’m not sure whether you could work to rule outside collective negotiations. I guess technically you could so long as you don’t breach your employment agreement, but that’s what employers have expensive lawyers for.

      It’d certainly be a high risk strategy as you wouldn’t have the legal protection of the ERA if your employer decided to try and discipline you or sue for costs.

  10. Andy 10

    Not sure where you are getting your information from last year the company made an after tax LOSS of 128.4 million

  11. StephenR 11

    Would that include the subsidies they’re given? Spose it would…

  12. Andy 12

    Everyones entitled to their own opinion but its really annoying when people can’t bother to get the facts correct! Makes me wonder about the quality of the information.
    The bus company made $40m last year but invested back into the business capital expenditure to make the service better / nicer buses etc $41.8m. The Infratil company that Eddie refers to above made a loss of 128.4m. Its all clearly available in the annual report.

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