Sunbus deadlock

One of Australia’s longest running route service shutdowns continues into another week as Sunbus seeks Federal intervention

Sunbus deadlock
Sunbus deadlock

By David Goeldner | August 11, 2011

It could turn out to be one of Australia’s longest running route service shut downs as Transit Australia Group’s Sunbus operation at Maroochydore continued to lock out drivers, with services stopped till next Tuesday.

The Sunshine Coast’s TransLink contactor has been out for most of this week, with services suspended until at least Tuesday morning with more action likely to follow as the Transport Workers Union continued its driver overtime bans.

The dispute revolves around an enterprise agreement process which started in May last year and is yet to be resolved, despite several meetings and a series of increased wage offers which have now reached TAG’s financial limit.

TAG Strategic Planning and Delivery General Manager Megan Harkin says the impasse can only be resolved in one of two ways, that the TWU either joins TAG with a joint application for arbitration with the Fair Work commissioner, or that TAG seeks intervention from the Federal Industrial Relations Minister Senator Chris Evans to order drivers back to work.

"We have been to Fair Work Australia without luck as the Fair Work Act is written in such a way that this industrial action can’t be stopped unless we demonstrate someone’s life is at risk," Harkin says.

"We have talked about going back to the Commissioner, and we have had consecutive days where people can’t get to the doctors and can’t go grocery shopping and even that’s not enough."

Harkin says the matter could be resolved if the TWU and TAG were to lodge a joint application for arbitration.

"The TWU refuse to do it," she says.

"The simplest way forward is to get professional arbitrators involved."

Harkin is nonplussed about the position drivers have taken at the Sunshine Coast depot.

"Drivers should be asking the TWU the question of why it doesn’t want to go to arbitration if they are genuine about drivers having a fair pay," she says.

"The TWU wants a combination of our above-award enterprise agreement plus conditions that come in the award, so they want a hybrid model which is extremely expensive and we simply can’t afford."

Harkin says in her 15-years experience in the bus industry she had not seen an industrial action taken against an operator of this length and nature.

"If we could lodge the application for arbitration tomorrow it’s all over, and we would implement whatever the arbitrator decides," she says.

Harkin says the second option is take the matter to the Federal Industrial Relations Minister Chris Evans based on a narrow part of the Fair Work Act.

"We are going to try intervention with Senator Chris Evans, and for that process we need as many affected organisation on the Sunshine Coast to provide statements to support our application," she says.

TAG has canvassed such support to give its application for intervention more weight on advice from its legal team.

"Our lawyers are working on this application to Chris Evans now, so we are going down that path, and we hope that drivers will see sense between now and then," Harkin says.

"The rumour we heard was that drivers are prepared to take two weeks of action, so we are anticipating this might run until Friday next week."

The TWU lodged further notice late today that overtime bans will continue up to Thursday August 18.

Harkin says the TWU is blaming TAG for the shutdown saying it is unnecessary.

"But it is absolutely necessary and we’ve told them we will continue to lock the gates until they lift the overtime bans," she says.

"The TWU understand we can’t run, and they’ve told us directly that they completely understand why we should shut down for public safety and they are not sending that message to the public."

Harkin says TAG’s key message for the TWU is to lift the ban.

"If they lift the ban today we would be on the road tomorrow."

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