Wellington bus drivers resist dirty tactics

– Nick Kelly

Wellington bus drivers continue to struggle against company attacks on their pay and conditions. Tactics employed by NZ Bus include being deceitful about their proposed pay increase, attempting to undermine the high Tramways Union density at the Kilbirnie bus depot, and being disrespectful to union members wishing to attend the recent funeral of long-serving union secretary Phil Griffiths.

Wage negotiation deceit

NZ Bus continues to pursue its crusade against drivers’ pay and conditions in the current collective negotiations. A recent Tramways Union newsletter to drivers reported:

“On Thursday 17 July the company tabled a wage increase proposal of 11%. The unions advised they felt this proposal was a basis to work on for settlement.

“In further discussion it became apparent that the 11% increase the company was proposing included the shift payment, the value of which the company had put at 70 cents per hour. This meant that the increase was not 11% at all. In reality the proposed increase was 5.3%. This is 2% less than the offer originally posted by the company on notice boards before the negotiations started.”
At the end of this newsletter the Tramways Union called a stopwork meeting where drivers would plan for industrial action. Within a very short space of time the company, who had walked out of talks a day earlier, came back to the union with a revised pay offer.

This showed the company was seriously rattled by the prospect of industrial action. Since then the company has dropped a number of claims where it was trying to attack drivers’ conditions, such as stripping the penal rates. However, at the time of going to press NZ Bus still hadn’t come up with a pay offer that was acceptable to Wellington bus drivers.

In 2007 Wellington bus drivers faced a reduction in their yearly income of up to $20,000 as the result of shift changes which slashed access to overtime.

The company continues to try and distort information and create divisions within the union.

Disrespect to union members

In mid-June, long serving Wellington Tramways Secretary Phil Griffiths died suddenly.

Phil Griffiths held office in the Tramways Union for over 20 years, and before that was an active rank-and-file member of the union and a driver. Although never formally a member of any political party, he had sympathies for socialist politics and had some close association with the old Communist Party of New Zealand in the 1970s. Phil Griffiths struggled for workers’ rights through the hard times after the Employment Contracts Act 1991, when drivers across the country faced significant attacks on their pay and conditions.

At the time that Phil died, the company and the Tramways Union were scheduled to commence pay talks. At one stage, the company demanded the talks continue on the morning of Phil’s funeral – a demand rejected by the union.

On the day of the funeral the company made it difficult for drivers to attend, many either being told they couldn’t go or that they had to leave early to resume work. Various drivers defied this and parked up the buses up at the Wellington station and walked off to the funeral.

The company went on to try and make life difficult for Phil’s immediate stand-in. Kevin O’Sullivan, the driver who stepped in as acting union secretary, was hoping to work 2 hours as a bus driver each morning. After the union wrote to the company complaining about various underhand negotiation tactics, Kevin was informed he would not be given any driving hours – despite the company being at least 40 drivers short in central Wellington.

Need to stand united

Wellington drivers are now the only drivers who get double time for working on Sundays and many other pre-1991 conditions that most other drivers have lost. Maintaining these conditions is in large part credit to Phil and to the drivers in Wellington for standing strong and united in the face of company repression.

It is absolutely vital that workers continue to stand staunch and united against any attempts by employers to attack pay and conditions.

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