The Guardian September 15, 1999


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.

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