BY RENFREY CLARKE
ADELAIDE — On the morning of August 28, bus drivers were preparing for an all-out fight with the city's privatised bus companies. After years of putting up with low wages and deteriorating conditions, the drivers had voted overwhelmingly to begin a five-day strike on August 29. The stoppage was to last for the duration of the Adelaide Show, at which time their bargaining position would be at its strongest.
However, Industrial Relations Commissioner Adrian Dangerfield on August 28 declared the strike illegal. The bus company Southlink was given a week to negotiate an agreement with its drivers; if no deal is reached, the commission will make a ruling that will be binding on both parties. Another bus operator, Serco, was given two weeks to find a settlement.
The drivers' secret-ballot vote for strike action — 395 to 52 at Serco and 95 to 12 at Southlink — had been overturned by a "vote" of one.
South Australian bus drivers are among the lowest paid in the country, with a base rate of $13.96-$14.36 per hour. They are seeking an 8% increase over two years. Other demands include an end to broken shifts, with unpaid lunch breaks limited to one hour; reasonable rosters; manageable sign-on and sign-off times; and a 7.6-hour work day with daily overtime.
Adelaide's bus services were privatised in April 2000 under the previous Liberal state government. Since then, drivers daily workloads have mounted and maintenance standards declined.
Labor Premier Mike Rann presents himself as an opponent of the sale of state-owned entities. "This is another privatisation which has gone wrong", a spokesperson for his office said recently of the bus deal.
However, Rann's government has no plans to take back the services that private enterprise is mismanaging. To try to undo the bus privatisation, the same source maintained, would be to try to "unscramble the egg".
From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.
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