Go Bus lockout: Ngāi Tahu uri to force issue onto the agenda at hui-ā-tau

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Ngāi Tahu uri will force the Go Bus lockout onto the agenda at the iwi’s hui-ā-tau this weekend.

Hamilton bus drivers are one week in to a two-week lockout at Go Bus, the Ngāi Tahu Holdings Corporation (NTHC) and Tainui Group Holdings (TGH)-owned transport company.

The lockout comes after First Union members took low-level strike action last week, refusing to collect fares from passengers.

“As members of Ngāi Tahu, we have access to many services and opportunities that are funded by Ngāi Tahu’s investments. One of these investments is Go Bus,” wrote Philip Wills in an open letter to the iwi.

“Go Bus employees in Hamilton are taking industrial action to try and get Go Bus to pay them a living wage. As an iwi we have recognised that paying the living wage is an important gesture of reciprocity and manaakitaka to those who work for and expand the wealth of our iwi.”

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu is a living wage employer, meaning its direct employees earn the living wage of $20.55 or above.

“We believe it is time to ensure that this basic standard of compensation is extended to the employees of subsidiary companies such as Go Bus as we are the beneficiaries of their labour also and as we are publicly accountable for their treatment.”

So far dozens of iwi members have lent their name to the letter.

The Go Bus lockout is the first major industrial dispute to take place in an iwi-owned company.

 “In an industrial dispute like this, that escalates to this level, it's time for the owners to step in and take some responsibility for what is going on,” said First Union divisional secretary Jared Abbott.

“Unfortunately, for a lot of our members, their whakapapa is to Tainui and Ngāi Tahu and [those members] have been pushing us to bring [the iwi] into the dispute.”

In 2014 NTHC and TGH purchased Go Bus from Next Capital, the Australian private equity firm. NTHC holds a two-thirds share and TGH holds the remaining third share.

In most cases iwi holding companies take an arms-length approach to their subsidiaries, but Labour MP and Employment Minister Willie Jackson cites iwi intervention in the Affco lockout in 2012 as a possible precedent for NTHC and THG.

“If Iwi can play a constructive part in resolving workplace disputes, then naturally I am in favour of their involvement,” he said.

“We’ve seen [a precedent] for this working successfully in the past. In 2012 Iwi/Māori were involved in helping to resolve the Affco lockout and this was due in part to the influence they can assert in both the economic and whānau support space.”  

In 2012 Affco, a Talleys-owned company, locked out its meat workers after a bitter and prolonged pay dispute.

The Council of Trade Unions and the Meat Workers Union put the call out to iwi leaders who helped organise kai packages for whānau and entered negotiations alongside the two unions, threatening to withhold supply from Affco plants if workers’ pay demands weren’t met.

The threat to withhold supply helped resolve the dispute in the workers’ favour.

“We all have a part to play across the spectrum and so I do see a place for Iwi involvement where appropriate,” said Jackson.

But Go Bus is holding its ground with the company’s chief operating officer (COO) arguing there’s no money to fund the drivers’ living wage demands.

 “This is a financial decision that must involve councils and the NZ Transport Agency who collectively fund our services and set the passenger fares... We are more than happy to work with them in presenting the case to the authorities that fund the bus services,” said Go Bus COO Nigel Piper.

Go Bus will pay a living wage, he added, when all other bus operators are forced to as well.

Competition in the industry is tight and many companies, in their tender bids to run services on public routes, compete on wages.

Go Bus intends to continue the lockout into next week.

Disclaimer: I’m a former First Union official, so naturally support the drivers.  

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in the house


Submissions on the Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill close on 14 December. The Māori Affairs Select Committee has received a large number of submissions on the Bill, many from ‘Hobson’s Pledegers’. But there have also been a significant number of submissions in support of the Bill. Max Harris, author of the new zealand project, has organised a submission drive via ActionStation, the progressive campaigning organisation. The Committee is also encouraging Māori to appear in person and speak to their submissions.

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