Auckland's gruelling bus dispute is unlikely to go anywhere this week, even though both sides say they hope to return to mediation to head off any more strikes next month.
Stagecoach says it is ready to meet union negotiators before a mediator at any time, while continuing to insist it has no more money to offer drivers after their six-day strike, which ended last Tuesday. But it acknowledges a meeting is unlikely during a week-long absence overseas of combined unions advocate Gary Froggatt, although drivers say their negotiators could respond to any approaches in the meantime.
The company has also re-submitted an application to the Employment Relations Authority for it to make the first binding pay ruling under new industrial law, on the basis of an alleged "serious and sustained" breach of good faith by union negotiators, which they deny. A hearing will begin on June 14 unless a settlement is reached first.
Stagecoach executive chairman Ross Martin says the company is prepared to give mediation another chance, despite 750 drivers voting on Wednesday by more than 13 to 1 to reject a new pay offer - one that even some union negotiators thought might have been acceptable.
The drivers held to their claim for an immediate pay rise to $16 an hour, and added a surprise demand for $17 in November, although they decided to refrain from any more industrial action until early next month. They held a stopwork meeting after Stagecoach doubled to $1200 a previous offer of cash in lieu of six months' backpay, but refused to lift the first instalment of a three-year wage regime above $15.
The only new movement from previous offers was of 7c an hour to $15.40 from November next year, and drivers were furious at being asked to wait until mid-2007 for $16.
But despite the drivers' added claim and militant mood, Mr Froggatt has since indicated they might settle for $16 if the company offers that before a deadline of June 7 set by the stopwork meeting, after which there could be more strikes.
He acknowledged that a lower settlement for drivers at Stagecoach's main Auckland rival, Ritchies Transport, could undermine the claim to some extent but said unions would keep pushing the larger company to set the benchmark for the rest of the industry. National Distribution Union organiser Karl Andersen confirmed the Ritchies deal at $14.05 an hour without overtime rates this year, rising to $14.60 next year. This compares with $13.20 previously paid to Ritchies drivers, and $13.94 received now by their Stagecoach counterparts, who also earn penal rates for overtime.
Mr Martin said Stagecoach had put "huge dollars on the table, and way more than Ritchies, and they are our major competitor in Auckland".
Ritchies director Andrew Ritchie said he did not want to be drawn into Stagecoach's dispute. What he paid his staff was nobody else's business. He said his company offered them greater flexibility to work more hours and hence earn more than Stagecoach drivers, and he believed a lower staff turnover indicated a happier workforce.
The Council of Trade Unions has meanwhile come out in support of the Stagecoach drivers' pay claim, after a vote last week of its affiliates council representing more than 300,000 union members. President Ross Wilson said he had offered to take a support role in the drivers' negotiations, was in contact with Mr Froggatt in Australia, and had already spoken to Mr Martin.
* Waiheke Buses: $14.92 - due to rise to $15.37 in July. No extra overtime rate.
* Birkenhead Transport: $14.68 (average after including industry allowance) - due for renegotiation soon. Extra overtime rate.
* Howick and Eastern: $14.17 - due for renegotiation soon. Overtime extra.
* Urban Express: $14.05. No overtime rate.
* Ritchie Transport: $14.05 - to rise to $14.60 next year. No overtime rate.
* Stagecoach: $13.94 - has offered $15 now, $15.40 late next year, $16 in 2007. Overtime extra.