Wellington bus drivers reject union-backed sale
By Tom Peters, Socialist Equality Group
June 24, 2021, original URL: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/06/24/nzbu-j24.html
Following a very lively union members’ meeting on Wednesday, Wellington bus drivers voted 150 to 73 to reject a third wage offer from NZ Bus, in opposition to the formal recommendation of the Tram Union to accept it.
This is a major development in the drivers’ struggle for decent wages and working conditions. On April 23, around 280 drivers were locked out by NZ Bus after voting in favor of the strike following the rejection of an initial offer that would have reduced annual leave, as well as overtime pay rates and of the weekend. The following month, drivers rejected a second, virtually unchanged offer and voted in favor of industrial action. However, the union has resumed negotiations.
The drivers’ rejection of the union-backed third offer is a testament to the growing activism and anger of New Zealand and international workers, who seek to combat austerity and endless attacks on their living standards. In doing so, workers come into conflict not only with governments and companies, but also with the trade union bureaucracy which seeks to isolate and sell off workers’ struggles.
The position taken by the NZ Bus drivers follows the June 9 national strike by 30,000 nurses and health workers. The Labor Party-led government is seeking to impose a three-year pay freeze across the public sector to fund its donations to large corporations in response to the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic.
NZ Bus is owned by Australian private equity firm Next Capital, which is looking to get as much profit as possible from the deal before selling it. The Next Capital website says it expects a 25 percent return on investment, which is to be extracted through increased exploitation of workers.
The vote represents a significant change on the part of workers from just a few months ago during the April lockout, when there was little to no open criticism from union leaders. Stuff reported that Wednesday’s ratification meeting “saw the drivers direct their fury against both the company and the streetcar union.” Driver Koro Hikori denounced the attempt to pressure the workers: âAt the end of the day, we make the decisions, not you. I don’t like to be threatened. You don’t scare people into signing something they don’t want to sign.
Union Secretary Kevin O’Sullivan had said the day before: âThis is a good offer. This is a much improved offer from what we previously rejected.
In fact, the third offer was a sold sale. It included a wage rate of $ 22.10 an hour, which is falsely presented as a “living wage” by the unions. This is an increase of just over $ 2 for many drivers, who currently earn less than the statutory minimum wage of $ 20 an hour.
The offer would have reduced the penalty rates, currently at one-and-a-half for overtime and double time on weekends, to $ 30 for overtime and to $ 40 an hour on Sundays and holidays.
The meager hourly increase was to be funded, not by the company, but by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, which hires NZ Bus to provide public transport services. The council, led by Daran Ponter of the Labor Party, has offered to subsidize the company’s payroll.
Public transport is in crisis. The pay and conditions are so appalling that Wellington’s operators – Tranzurban, NZ Bus and Uzabus – cannot find enough drivers, resulting in frequent cancellations of service. According to Stuff, “the region needed a total of 700 pilots to run the network, and up to 60 were missing.”
A driver told the World Socialist Web Site that the latest offer was “not good, that’s not what we were asking for … It’s the members who make the decisions, not the union officials.” He added: âI thank all my co-workers for standing up for their rights todayâ¦ [The vote showed] our union representatives, as well as the company and the board, that we do not back down, we fight to the end. He believed the drivers were ready to strike until they got what they wanted.
Another driver said: âThe union was not allowed to say the deal was done, and that caused a lot of angst today. What pissed people off is that this $ 22.10, the company doesn’t pay that, that’s the advice. The company does not pay anything. He also noted that NZ Bus required more capacity to dictate driver schedules.
The union announced on June 15 that it had reached an agreement with the company, long before the workers were consulted. The media described it as a deal, with Radio NZ’s Kathryn Ryan falsely stating on June 16 that “an agreement has been made between NZ Bus and its drivers.” [emphasis
The driver said that prior to the vote, the union circulated a leaflet stating: âRejecting this offer will leave members with no choice but to engage in protracted industrial action which guarantees absolutely no success. ” This attempt to pressure the workers to accept the clearance sale only fueled their anger, he added: âThe union was told by some of the drivers how disgusted they were. by the result. People would ask them: are they on our side?
At the meeting, he said, union officials told workers “if we don’t accept [the offer] then we would go on the Auckland contract. Last year, the Tram Union agreed with NZ Bus to significantly reduce penalty rates for hundreds of drivers in Auckland.
âWe told the union to go back to the company and tell them that we want our conditions and the living wage to be maintained. Otherwise, strike. However, officials did not call for any votes on the strike. The union resumes negotiations with the company and the board.
The Tram Union’s attempt to force a corporate capitulation underscores the need for new organizations, independent of the pro-capitalist unions and the Labor Party, and controlled by the workers themselves. The International Committee of the Fourth International, which publishes the WSWS, called for the formation of an International Alliance of Workers of Grassroots Committees, to unite workers’ struggles across borders, against attempts by unions to isolate them. and defeat them.
Such workplace committees would seek to break the isolation imposed by unions on NZ Bus workers, uniting with drivers in Auckland, Christchurch and other centers, as well as training workers who face similar attacks on their wages and working conditions. They would also appeal directly for support from workers in Australia and other countries.
The situation facing drivers raises above all the need for a socialist party and perspective, as opposed to the Labor government, which has falsely promised to improve the wages of public transport and other workers. Public transport and other essential industries must be taken out of the hands of big business and placed under public ownership and worker control, with tens of billions of dollars invested to expand services, dramatically increase wages and secure working conditions sure.
The Socialist Equality Group calls on all workers to support the position taken by the workers at NZ Bus. We call on public transport and other workers to contact us at [email protected] to discuss our perspective and the need for grassroots committees to expand this fight.
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