Sunbus breakthrough

A breakthrough between warring parties TAG and the Transport Workers Union has been negotiated, to settle next week

Sunbus breakthrough
Sunbus breakthrough

By David Goeldner | September 16, 2011

After several months of sparring over the terms of an enterprise agreement between Sunbus drivers at the Sunshine Coast and parent company Transit Australia Group (TAG), it looks like peace is about to break out.

TransLink’s offer of mediation between the parties with industrial relations lawyer Ian Hanger QC was accepted by the Transport Workers Union in the week that followed a driver’s protest rally – led by the TWU – in Brisbane on September 1.

The first mediation meeting was held on September 7, followed with a second meeting on Wednesday this week, where TAG put a revised offer to the TWU which will now see drivers receive a phased-in wages package, including penalties, of close to 4.5 percent a year over the next three years.

TAG Managing Director Wayne Patch says he welcomes a resolution to the dispute, but believes the revised offer will place his group at ‘financial risk’.

"The agreement places the company at a bit of risk because we don’t know what the wage costs will be going forward," he says.

"But what mediation did provide was an opportunity for the company (TAG) to put to the drivers exactly what the funding arrangements are between ourselves and TransLink."

While there may be some risk carried by TAG not absorbed by Government appropriation, Patch says the agreement gives surety to the drivers as they will now know what to expect over the next three years.

"It’s not exactly the outcome that all of us wanted, but it’s an outcome that all parties can live with," Patch says.

Part of the disquiet from the TWU was the stripping away of penalty rates since the Passenger Vehicle Transportation Award started coming into force earlier this year.

"We are staging-in the re-introduction of penalty rates during the term of this agreement, and by the end of it, drivers’ weekend penalty rates will be as per the award," Patch says.

He says as soon as the drivers agree to the economic terms, TAG will again meet with the TWU and work through clauses of the Enterprise Agreement.

"We don’t envisage any problem from either side," Patch says.

The next stage will be a draft agreement required under the Fair Work Act which will be circulated to drivers and voted on through the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

This vote is expected to take place in October.

Patch says there may be some further minor disruption to Sunshine Coast bus services early next week, possibly on Tuesday, when Sunbus drivers stop work for two hours to discuss the outcome of this week’s mediation.

He says the ‘report back’ meeting is supported by TAG to ensure drivers understand the financial parameters of the agreement.

"The TWU is very confident that the drivers will accept our position," Patch says.

Sunbus has otherwise returned to full services on the Sunshine Coast leading up to the start of school holidays in Queensland from this weekend.

Elsewhere in Transit Australia Group’s operations, drivers will soon vote at Townsville Sunbus on their enterprise agreement with support of the Australia Workers Union, while Gold Coast Surfside drivers have just determined the outcome of their agreement with voting closed at the AEC late today.

The outcome of the Gold Coast vote will be announced by the AEC next week.

The other major Queensland-based bus operator caught up with industrial action in recent months – Veolia – will have its enterprise agreement voted on later this month.

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