Monday, April 04, 2005


The talks on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. The talks on the bus go round and round, all day long. The passengers at the stop jump up and down, up and down, up and down. The passengers at the stop jump up and down, all day long. If you don't live in Auckland, don't watch the news and were out in the bush for most of last week, Auckland's major bus company, Stagecoach, was affected by industrial action by their drivers today, Monday 04 April. Here's a run down from the Herald of the issue. The combined unions and Stagecoach have been unable to reach an agreement regarding their pay and as a result, even after the unions have demonstrated that they will begin industrial action through their stopwork meetings that took place last week. The situation Stagecoach find themselves in an uneviable position where their handling of their employment relations has the potential for direct affect on the public AND businesses, schools and transport. As the major provider for bus services in Auckland, Stagecoach are relied upon for regular, reliable and convenient public transport services. Given funding by the Auckland Regional Council, they have an obligation to deliver good services to the Auckland public, and are also, as a private company and subsidiary of an international corporate, required to make money and manage the business effectively. Given that today's strike impacted ALL bus services by Stagecoach, it is a sharp reminder to Stagecoach that there is cohesive power among the unions and that they will walk if they choose to. Primary concern would therefore have to be the motivation that drivers have to join a union AND that such a significant number feel that it would be a good idea. The impact I rode on the train to Newmarket today and while it was a little more packed than usual and I was lucky to get on as the train got closer in from the West, as the carriage was filled to the gunwhales. Many more people caught the train today, and unfortunately, some schoolkids (lower priority for Connex than the public at rush hour) and some members of the public were unable to get the train when they were at the platform. I saw some people waiting at a bus stop this morning and had a bit of a chuckle to myself. I was also secretly glad that someone from Stagecoach was doing the rounds and told them to go catch the train because the bus wasn't going to come today. It was a little odd however because Newmarket didn't seem to be choked up at 9:30am like I would have expected it to be, and it certainly wasn't choked up at rush hour, when I went to catch my train again. On getting off the train, major arterial roads on the 21x/22x routes were likewise flowing reasonably steadily, by my eye. A colleague of mine remarked last week that it was more likely to clear congestion rather than cause it because the buses created a lot of queues and delay in the lanes which they dominated during rush hours. There were more cars on the road most definitely, however I didn't notice any great cram as a result. I'll admit I was privately disappointed. Dominion Road, the busiest route in Auckland, was however chocka. I don't go near Dominion Road on my route in so I didn't know this, but found it out on the news tonight. It always is a little hellish as it is, and so whenever I get a lift in the car we tend to avoid it. Students missed school, classes, and assessments. I felt quite bad for university students, because the ones who use the bus services generally do rely on them. The last outbound train from the city is about 8:30pm, I think, so the late workers would have had to cut their studies short. Auckland Girls' Grammar School was expecting major disruption and acknowledged that students might have to stay at home. From the way we were being warned, one could be forgiven for thinking that we were listening to a snow forecast and not a strike forecast. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. So it was today. The verdict Stagecoach have several reasons to be worried: Impact The impact of the strike was lessened by such a degree and for the better part absorbed by private traffic. If traffic flowed as well (badly) with increased cars and fewer buses, what does that say about the effectiveness of the bus service? Add to that the dent to the PR image from the public declaration by an ARC councillor that she was going to join the workers on the picket. Employee relations The strike is bound to have increased the team spirit among the workers. A bit of adventure, poster and flag waving, having people toot as they go past, these would be just the kind of thing people would prefer to be doing rather than working, especially on a Monday. The strike has proven the workers' determination and squarely placed the ball in Stagecoach's court. Pay negotiations Stagecoach must now be wary of the unions and review the way that they treat them. Several unflattering soundbites in the media from Stagecoach representatives have not advanced their cause and they risk alienating the public and their staff, and losing valuable revenue. Public image and worth If Stagecoach will not avoid further strikes, then they risk forcing people to give up on the reliability of Stagecoach as a provider of public transport. The well known branding of The Yellow Bus Company took some time to assimilate and they risk turning people to private transport and losing the trust that has built up in the brand. The two cents Stagecoach risk turning the drivers militant in their unionism. For such a delicate public position where whether or not the bus runs can affect schools, businesses and academic institutions, Stagecoach need to be very careful about their public handling of this and their private response to the unions. Bus driving strikes me [excuse the pun] as having the real potential to be heavily and actively unionised, and for a private operator it is not good news if the drivers are doubted, tested and provoked. It's been a long time coming. During university, I often thought it would be a boycott that would cause Stagecoach to sort their stuff out, I never guessed it would be a strike. It's real tough for the people who missed out today, and I know they missed out. It's another case where I have my butt in ice cream because I now catch the train. What would really bring Auckland to its knees would be a combined strike by train and bus workers. However, until the unions succeed in negotiating a MECA (Multi-employer Collective Agreement - see Association of University Staff, NZ Nurses' Organisation), this is a distant possibility.


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