TAG - TWU in stalemate

Transit Australia Group and the TWU are locked in a stalemate over driver wages, a situation TAG Managing Director Wayne Patch describes as disappointing and ‘ridiculous’, and could be headed towards an FWA ruling

TAG - TWU in stalemate
TAG – TWU in stalemate

By David Goeldner | December 16, 2010

Wildcat bus driver strikes at Transit Australia Group’s Sunshine Coast and Townsville depots look certain to continue with TAG and the Transport Workers Union in a stalemate over driver wages under the Passenger Transportation Vehicle Award (PVTA).

TAG Managing Director Wayne Patch says the TWU is seeking wage rises between five and ten percent more than is provided for under the new PVTA award rules.

"It’s just ridiculous, and at this point the union is stuck on it and they won’t bend," says Patch.

"We are renowned as a rather generous employer – we understand that our employees are our most important part of our business.

"The comments the TWU are making that we are trying to reduce driver wages doesn’t make sense – it’s just silly."

Patch believes the TWU is misconstruing the fact that since the commencement of the PVTA, all drivers are required to transition across to the new award.

In TAG’s case, Patch says the transition will be managed over a five year period to bring all drivers in line with the new award rates of pay.

"There’s a guarantee that no employee will be worse off," he says.

"We guarantee that their take home pay will not go down, and we have guaranteed that each year they will be getting an increase."

TAG has offered drivers 3.1 percent up front and continuous increases over the five year period.

"The increases will be marginally less than Fair Work Australia would be presenting so that they would transition to the award over a five year period," Patch says.

According to Patch, the lower rates of incremental increased pay over that period is to compensate for a situation where some drivers had been paid higher than the industry standard rates of pay before the PVTA came into force.

"But it’s a new award they have never worked under before – it’s an award that we are endeavouring to get them over the line with over the next five years," Patch says.

"Some of our employees will be going up and some will be coming marginally down over the five year period, but not from what they are currently getting."

He says this is the key point being missed by the drivers and ignored by the TWU, and dismisses the union’s accusation that TAG are trying to get out of their responsibility to pay the new award rates.

"We do have a capacity to pay the new award, we intend to pay the new award," Patch says.

"What we don’t have a capacity to pay is their log of claims that is substantially higher than the Federal award."

In fact, says Patch, it is illegal to pay an employee less than they are currently earning.

Patch and his management team continue to teleconference with union delegates, attempting to find a resolution, and prevent further industrial action which has affected closures at TAG depots on the Sunshine Coast and Townsville.

More stoppages will go ahead at both locations running up to Christmas day, with Sunbus drivers on the Sunshine Coast striking for 48 hours from tomorrow morning – Friday 17 December.

Townsville’s Sunbus drivers will stop work again from next Wednesday, also for 48 hours.

Both stoppages are protected under legislation and any further industrial action must also give three day’s notice.

Patch says another disappointing aspect of the TWU’s action is that non-union drivers are also affected by the strikes, which has meant forced closures of Sunbus depots for the duration of work stoppages.

He says the depots have been closed due to TAG’s liability to the public.

Patch is mindful of the current court inquiry involving the disappearance of Sunshine Coast school student Daniel Morcombe who is alleged to have been abducted while waiting for a bus.

"After circumstances like we have on the Sunshine Coast with Daniel Morcombe, we are particularly careful of our vicarious liability to the public," says Patch.

"We can’t say that if you just go stand on the side of the road maybe a bus might come pass with one of the drivers that doesn’t want to be on strike."

The Morcombe case and TAG’s responsibility to operate a complete service has led to the Group’s decision to lock down their affected depots during strike action.

"We can’t just have people waiting on the off chance that a bus might come past," Patch says.

"And the drivers who want to work don’t have an opportunity to do so because we don’t know who’s going to turn up to work and who’s not."

Patch believes the majority of drivers at the affected sites would prefer to work, and not take part in the TWU-led action.

"They’re getting sucked into the mire even though they didn’t have a vote on the industrial action to commence with – it’s a huge anomaly in the system."

Patch says he understands the dilemma currently faced by TAG drivers.

"We understand that this must be an awful time for the families of bus drivers coming into Christmas," he says.

"They’re not renowned as a particularly highly paid sector of the Australian workforce to be taking one or two days a week out of their pay, and I don’t think it’s going to be sustainable in the long term."

The travelling public are similarly affected, he says.

"It affects the company negatively, it has a devastating affect on the transport-disadvantaged, people with no other alternatives but to use the bus, and the drivers themselves – so no-one is winning out of the exercise."

Patch says TAG have so far acted in good faith and lawfully, believing that the TWU’s agenda is to test the new legislation through industrial action.

"We’ve bargained in good faith to the point where we are still able to negotiate at the margins about timing of increases," he says.

He adds that it was the TWU that ‘sat at the table’ and negotiated the PVTA on behalf of their member drivers.

"Now the TWU is saying that the PVTA is unsatisfactory for these particular drivers, which I find incomprehensible.

"If the unions believe that we are doing anything unlawful, which we are clearly not, I would encourage them to ask the FWA to adjudicate on the matter."

Patch says the majority of TAG drivers had not rejected the TAG offer.

"The drivers themselves haven’t rejected it, the unions have been rejecting it," he says.

"If the union believes we are being unfair or we are mistreating drivers in any way there’s plenty of recourse through Fair Work Australia – and we look forward to seeing them in that jurisdiction."

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