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Employment Relations Authority Releases Recommendations Following Union Rejection Of Proposed Settlement

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Employment Relations Authority Releases Recommendations Following Union Rejection Of Proposed Settlement

Between Thursday, 8 October and Wednesday, 14 October NZ Bus and the coalition of four unions that make up the Auckland Combined Unions participated in facilitation with the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to resolve their long standing pay dispute.

The four unions that make up the Auckland Combined Unions represent the approximately 900 bus drivers and cleaners who work for Metrolink, North Star, GO WEST, Waka Pacific, LINK and City Circuit bus services.

"We believe we had put a fair and substantive offer of 10.5 per cent over three years on the table for our people, but after five months of unsuccessful negotiation we approached the ERA to assist both parties to reach an agreement," says Zane Fulljames, General Manager Operations.

The Employment Relations Authority is the specialist body established to adjudicate and rule on employment matters. After six days of facilitation, on Wednesday, 14 October, the ERA made their recommendation to resolve the industrial dispute between the Auckland Combined Unions and NZ Bus.

Prior to the ERA outcome, NZ Bus had publically stated that it agreed to honour the recommendation released on Wednesday, 14 October, "whatever the outcome."

Typically details of an ERA recommendation remain private to the parties involved in facilitation.

However, Mr Fulljames says "We requested that the ERA make its recommendation public in the interests of transparency following the huge public impact industrial action has had. We are pleased that the ERA has agreed to this request." What did the Employment Relations Authority recommend?

In coming to his decision, the ERA facilitator highlighted that while bus drivers are generally underpaid, the current wage round was not the forum in which to address this issue.

He also stated that, due to the current economic environment, NZ Bus's net operating income was going to be lower than forecast. The economic environment, while improving, would require New Zealanders to show restraint, as seen in other collective agreement settlements, for some time to come.

With this in mind, the ERA made the following recommendation to resolve the pay dispute: A wage increase of 4.2 per cent for the first 16 months followed by an increase of 3.9 per cent for the next 14 months. A shorter term: An expiry date of 31 December 2011 designed to give the company surety of service until after the Rugby World Cup. two wage increases, as opposed to the three proposed by the company during negotiations with the unions: o the first to be backdated to July 2009 o the second to come in November 2010 o both to be increases of 70 cents per hour.

The ERA also recommended that both parties continue to discuss whether union members should be paid for the period of the industrial action during which buses did not run.

"We are prepared to hear the unions' case on this matter," says Mr Fulljames.

In addition, the ERA advised that in the "event that the parties are unable to accept the ERA recommendation as drafted that they mutually and immediately agree to withdraw all notices of industrial action."

The unions' notice of strike action and the Company notice of lockout were mutually suspended on Wednesday, 14 October.

However, at a meeting of the Auckland Combined Unions on Wednesday, union members rejected the ERA's recommendations.

"The independent recommendation of the ERA reinforces that our offer to the unions has been both fair and competitive," Mr Fulljames continues. "The Unions have rejected every company offer. They have now rejected the independent recommendation of the ERA."

Mr Fulljames concludes, "The parties have agreed to meet again on Friday October 23 to advance discussions in mediation with the Department of Labour."

To read the Employment Relations Authority recommendation, go to www.nzbus.co.nz

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