Employers out to cut bus drivers' wages
In an unprecedented act of underhand bastardry, the NSW State Transit Authority (STA) has lodged a pay claim against its bus drivers which will cut its overall wages costs by slashing basic working conditions such as annual holidays and sick leave. Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) spokesperson Ron Pearsall told The Guardian that the union will be "vigorously opposing" the STA's claim and, at a meeting on Monday, 13 September, would be recommending that industrial action in the form of stoppages take place. Mr Pearsall said it was the first time he knew of employers lodging a claim instead of the union. The STA claim proposes 47 changes to working conditions, including reducing annual leave by one week, training to be paid by employees, halving sick leave and capping the number of sick days and overtime that can be accrued and shorter paid meal breaks. In exchange, the STA is offering a paltry wage increase of between 4 and 5 per cent over two years. Mr Pearsall said, "We're supposed to be in a Labor Government state, opposed to the industrial relations Act that the Howard/Reith Government brought in, yet we've got one of the government authorities making use of that Act to try and get what they can't get by negotiation — to try and impose it on the workers". Bus drivers had been fed up with continually having to trade off hard-won conditions each time they negotiated for a pay rise, said the union. So the union was looking at making a claim not for improved pay, but for improved conditions. The RTBU was particularly looking at improving the conditions for part-time bus workers who it said were "really disadvantaged" and have inferior conditions compared to part-time workers in other industries. The STA was aware that the union was looking at conditions rather than pay, because the union had lodged an application with the Industrial Relations Commission to improve the conditions of its part-time workers. Two days before the union was to appear in the Commission over its application, the STA lodged its log of claims. Under the Howard/Reith legislation, the lodgment of a log of claims (usually by the union) initiates a bargaining period and the Commission cannot then hear any other matters. So the move by the STA was a sneaky underhanded "pre-emptive strike" against the union's move to improve conditions. In response to the union trying to get a moderate improvement in conditions, mainly for their part-time workers, the employers have launched a massive attack on the conditions of all bus workers. A not unimportant factor in this issue is the demand by the STA that wage rises be "offset" by cost savings in other areas, such as increased productivity, or trading off conditions. The STA said it could not afford an "unfunded wage rise". At a time when it is normal for unions to negotiate trade-offs in return for wage increases — which should take place in any case, to keep pace with rising living costs — employers are pushing for wage rises not to take place at all unless the workers can "fund" the increase themselves.