Auckland bus drivers likely to refuse pay offer

Te Waha Nui report by Mohamed Hassan
Auckland public transport has hit another road block this week, with NZ Bus and unions failing to agree on the terms of a pay rise for drivers.

Auckland bus services will halt on Friday from 1pm to 4pm while drivers meet to decide on NZ Bus’ offer. Photo: Mohamed Hassan.

A stopwork meeting has been called for 1pm Friday when drivers will meet to decide whether to accept a settlement offer by NZ Bus.

FIRST Union and Auckland Tramways Union represent nearly 900 bus drivers in Auckland.

Both unions will recommend drivers refuse an offer of 6.6 per cent pay increases over 27 months in three increments.

This would begin with a 3.3 per cent rise in February.

Karl Anderson, FIRST Union transport and logistics secretary, says the time frame is one “big issue” for  drivers but there has always “been a feeling that bus drivers are fundamentally underpaid”.

NZ Bus was not available for comment, but a statement released yesterday said dialogue had been “mostly constructive”. It also said the offer would bring bus operators to a $20 an hour by 2014.

Wage negotiations between the two parties have long been bumpy. In 2009 drivers were locked out of work in response to strike threats.

“The Employment Relations Authority recommended back then that bus drivers weren’t paid enough, and this led to a breakdown in talks,” says Andersen.

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority stepped in at that point, threatening NZ Bus with contract cancellation if it did not lift the lockout.

Anderson doubts the new Auckland Council will get involved in the latest dispute, and says their “non-interventionist” stance was clear during the Ports of Auckland dispute earlier this year.

“I think the council needs to look at its tendering process,” he says.

“By giving contracts to the lowest costing company, it promotes a race to the bottom.”

This leaves wages as an easy target, he says.

“NZ Bus has a higher level of pay than other companies in Auckland, but they have to lower them to compete against the worst payers.”

Auckland Council transport committee chair Mike Lee says the council will avoid intervention as much as possible, and that it’s up to both parties to reach an agreement.

“The council will not, if it can avoid it, be ranked into an industrial dispute.”

He says the tender system has been around for some time, and, while not perfect, seems to work well.

A NZ Bus driver, who declined to be named, said the union was “split” over whether to walk away from the settlement.

When asked if he thought he was paid fairly the driver, employed at NZ Bus for five years, laughed nervously.

“Unfortunately, I’m on duty so I can’t comment.”

Cameron Pitches, from Campaign for Better Transport, says the two parties need to think more about the passengers, who ultimately end up missing out.

“It is a shame that lockouts or strikes seem to be the only avenues.”

Karl Andersen says he could not comment if more industrial action would take place should negotiations fail like in 2009, but says most of the public support bus drivers’ fight for an adequate wage.