TransLink cops TWU flak

The TWU rallied outside Brisbane’s TransLink offices this week, demanding action on bus driver’s conditions

TransLink cops TWU flak
TransLink cops TWU flak

By David Goeldner | September 1, 2011

More than 100 bus drivers from Veolia Queensland and Transit Australia Group’s Sunbus and Surfside operations vented their anger outside TransLink’s Brisbane office on Thursday, demanding better pay and conditions.

The rally was led by Transport Workers Union Queensland State Secretary Peter Biagini, pictured, who presented TransLink officials Michael McGee and Andrew Berkman with a petition based on a log of claims sought through the stalled enterprise bargaining process between drivers and their employers.

Biagini and his TWU driver members are holding TransLink accountable for the impasse, claiming the public transport authority and its contracted operators were not doing enough to lift wages and improve driver’s working conditions.

About 30 minutes into the rally, a dozen Queensland police officers escorted Biagini and three union delegates into the TransLink foyer where the petition was presented to Berkman and McGee to pass on to TransLink CEO Peter Strachan.

Biagini says the TransLink representatives took the petition, would look at it, but would not commit to any action.

"TransLInk is still saying it’s not their responsibility," Biagini says.

"Sooner or later they will sit down and listen to what the drivers concerns are."

TransLink has offered mediation to settle the dispute by offering – and paying for – the services of Ian Hanger QC, an eminent industrial relations lawyer.

TransLink CEO Peter Strachan says the offer of Hanger to mediate ‘is the right thing to do’.

"The employers have said they are happy to go to arbitration, it’s up to the TWU to come to the party on that," Strachan says.

Biagini says the TWU had been down the mediation path earlier this year at Fair Work Australia, which ended in frustration for both operator and the union.

"It went for a couple of days, and we got totally frustrated," he says.

"TransLink has asked us why we won’t take up their proposal of a mediator," Biagini says.

Biagini adds TAG has kept to the same ‘line’ throughout the impasse, now into its fourth month.

"The companies kept sticking to the same line, that there’s a bucket of money we get from TransLink and that’s it, there’s no more – which is insufficient to what the drivers want," Biagini says.

"I said to the representatives of TransLink that unless your mediator is also coming along with a bag of money to top up that bucket, it’s a waste of time."

Biagini says the offer of Ian Hanger QC as mediator makes no difference.

"We know the companies won’t move and we’ve had many meetings with them," he says.

"Sunbus has had a 12-day strike and they (TAG) haven’t moved one penny."

Strachan respects Biagini’s comments that unless there is another bag of money coming from the mediator, the offer won’t be accepted.

"But I will make sure that offer is on the table, it’s the second time we’ve made that offer," he says.

Leading up to the rally, union action escalated after TAG management on the Sunshine Coast decided to lock its Sunbus depots during August citing a duty of care to protect the interests of passengers if services couldn’t be guaranteed.

Biagini rejects the ‘duty of care’ argument saying the reason why the depots had been locked was to break the strength of the Sunshine Coast TWU membership base.

"The Sunshine Coast guys are the strongest, they have been united on this, and the company is trying to break them by locking them out and not giving them any money at all," he says.

"At the Gold Coast its different – the workforce is very transient – a big workforce of about 500 drivers, but with duty of care the drivers do the same thing down there."

The day before the rally, the TWU issued a statement claiming Queensland’s public transport system is ‘broken’ and it must be fixed – a claim which appears to have inflamed relations between the parties.

Strachan refutes Biagini and the TWU’s suggestion that Queensland’s public transport system is broken.

"We are recognised as one of the best performing public transport regions in Australia," Strachan says.

"We see that through customer statistics, and if there is any suggestion that we are not rolling out any additional services you just have to look at what we did recently."

In reference to the recent opening of Brisbane’s Eastern Busway, Strachan also cited an extra 300,000 seats on buses or trains rolled out in southern Queensland since 2008 to counter Biagini’s claim.

"We are trying to meet the growth in the marketplace, and I would fundamentally disagree with anyone who says this system is broken," Strachan says.

Biagini kept up the call during the rally to make TransLink accountable for the breakdown in negotiations between drivers and the operators.

He says TransLink should be blamed for the dispute as it has ultimate control over the operations.

"The operators are only running a service for TransLink – TransLInk has full control, they set up the runs and routes and use Surfside and Sunbus as labour hire companies," Biagini says.

"Slowly you are seeing the Surfside, Sunbus and Veolia signs coming off the buses and TransLink signs going up in their place – they are fully controlling it."

Along with lifting wages, Biagini also wants TransLink and the operators to start listening to drivers concerns about unfair rosters, and timetables suited to driver amenity – such as meal and toilet breaks.

"Some of these guys are working 12 or 14 hours a day, with a split shift in the middle of the day to get an 8 hour pay," he says.

"But they like their jobs so they will fight for better wages and conditions."

Strachan says the contracts struck between TransLink and the operators already provides for wage increases, even under a funding model heavily subsidised by the state.

"For every dollar that comes through the fare box, the Queensland Government and local governments put in another $3," he says.

"We have just short of 24 percent cost recovery in south-east Queensland, which is comparatively low, so there is a big burden being placed at the door of the state to subsidise public transport."

Strachan explains that TransLink’s contractual relationship with the bus companies has in-built inflationary capabilities based on the wages cost index.

"We are paying that as it emerges, and at the moment it’s running at about 3.8 percent – a fairly sizable increase in the wages uplift," he says.

Strachan says what the operator chooses to do with increased amounts provided under wage indexing is a matter for the operator, not TransLink.

"TransLink does not have a role in that discussion," he says.

Strachan wants to see a quick end to the impasse.

"I have to say I am sick and tired of our customers telling us about service disruptions."

He says service delivery has suffered to the point where bus companies and its drivers should feel a sense of shame.

"That’s not the sort of service delivery that the bus companies or its employees should be proud of," Strachan says.

"Get the parties around the table and get this dispute resolved."

Biagini says the TWU and its member drivers at Sunbus, Surfside and Veolia will resume protest rally action on September 30, again outside TransLink’s Brisbane headquarters.

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