Interview: Polar Eclipse
Industrial: Wrong Turn
Unions: Star Support
Workplace: Checked Out
Economics: Sold Out
Politics: Green Banned
History: Potted History
International: Curtain Call
Review: Little Fish
Poetry: Slug A Worker
The Locker Room
Nobody at Burwood bus depot realised they operated services across Sydney's Harbour Bridge until they put a middle-aged Kiwi behind the wheel of one of their big, blue Mercedes.
"I took one over the bridge the other night," Yvonne Carson admitted. "It was just one wrong turn. Still, I had never been over the bridge before."
Carson came to Sydney straight from Wiri in south Auckland, a depot that is proving a valuable training ground for transport operators around Australia.
She knows at least 20 former workmates who keep big wheels turning on the roads of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
The drive to Australia, she says, has become a rush over the last two years as the antics of privatised Auckland operator, Stagecoach, and superior Aussie wages and conditions form an enticing quinella.
Carson and her husband had their eyes opened to the possibilities when they called in on a former workmate during an Aussie trip she won at her local gym, last year.
The money made their eyes pop.
Meanwhile, back home, Scottish-based Stagecoach was scouring India and the Pacific Islands for people who would drive for wages held down since the National Party introduced the Employment Contracts Act, in 1991.
"It was a big move for us," Carson admitted. "We thought about it long and hard.
"When we saw what our friends were making over here we realised we had been working all our lives and we were still struggling. My kids missed out on a lot because we couldn't afford things.
"Our oldest boys had all left home and we only had our baby to care for, so we decided to give it a go."
Carson got a start with State Transit, and her husband walked into a job with Connex.
Barely seven months in the country and they are taking home at least 50 percent more, and sometimes double, what they did at home.
"My husband can clear 100 percent more than he did in Auckland, and that's without super," she says.
Carson starts enumerating the differences on her own wage slips - nearly $19 an hour, against $13.98 when she left New Zealand in January; overtime after eight hours a day, instead of after 45 a week; time and a half and double time for Saturdays and Sundays, against, well, nothing; night shift allowances as opposed to zip; an extra week of annual leave. And on it goes.
Yes, she admits, money was their driving motivation. But it wasn't the only thing.
She had been a long-time treasurer of the Wiri depot social club and anyone who knows bus drivers knows the store they put on socialising.
"We had a great set-up," she recalled. "We worked odd hours and we spent a lot of time with one another.
"We would organise outings to the hot pools, or the beach, or just picnics in the park. Our families grew up together."
But all that changed with the arrival of Stagecoach and the embedding of an IR system that saw people as individuals.
Carson can't recall when Auckland's iconic yellow buses were delivered to the tender mercies of private enterprise. To the best of her recollection it was when form Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, was "selling off everything we owned".
Under Stagecoach, the social clubs were closed down and the camaraderie and spirit that made the job worthwhile disappeared, too.
"Morale has gone through the floor. The fun has gone and it's just a job," she says.
"In the last two years, the turnover in Auckland has been huge."
Carson will always be a Kiwi at heart but, she admits, Australia and Australians, especially those she has run into at Waverley and Burwood depots, have been good to her.
Now, she figures, it's time to return the favour.
She, and a bunch of other Kiwi drivers, want their workmates to wake up to what John Howard has in store for them and their families.
She listened in amazement, last month, as Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, laid it on the line, insisting that Aussies become wage-competitive with New Zealanders.
"I worry that some people take what they have for granted," she said. "People think we are joking when we tell them what we were earning back home. They don't believe it.
"I don't think people realise what will happen and that's a scary thought."
It's one wrong turn, she says, Australia can't afford to make.
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