20 Jul 2018

Wellington bus network overhaul: Ministry admits role in securing jobs for unemployed

12:53 pm on 20 July 2018

The bus drivers' union has released documents showing how Tranzit worked with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to recruit people who were unemployed as drivers.

Commuters at a bus stop in Newtown

The roll out of new buses and bus routes in Wellington this week is continuing to be controversial. Photo: RNZ / Emma Hatton

The roll out of new buses and bus routes in Wellington this week is continuing to be controversial with new drivers struggling to stick to the timetable. Some were late, cramped or not arriving at all.

The Ministry of Social Development has admitted it played an inappropriate role in helping secure contracts for those on the dole to get behind the wheel - while existing bus drivers were looking for work.

The Tramways Union made a complaint to the police about bus drivers in Wellington working up to 14-hour shifts.

Police confirmed they received a complaint from Tramways yesterday and were looking into it.

Tramways Union Wellington secretary Kevin O'Sullivan said the union approached the regional council and Tranzit - who were awarded the contract for most of Wellington's NZ Bus services - over the transition because about 120 employees were going to lose their jobs at Valley Flyer.

"A lot of those people want work and instead of talking to us about this transition to the new operator, [Tranzit] went to WINZ to get people who were unemployed to sign up," Mr O'Sullivan said.

"So now we've got the situation where a lot of people lost their jobs, some people did transfer but I have to say that the people that did transfer and take up work with Tranzit from Valley Flyer are on an inferior agreement."

He told Morning Report that the union had been in talks with the council for at least the past two years to stop that from happening, but drivers were now facing cuts of up to $200 a week on average.

"Our members are now in the position of having to essentially subsidise the public transport in Wellington by taking a cut in their pay and conditions," Mr O'Sullivan said.

"Perhaps in the Hutt Valley not quite that amount because the Valley Flyer agreement was not the same as the Go Wellington agreement."

However, he said the bigger problem members faced was the terms and conditions rather than the hourly pay rate.

"I have seen rosters where people sign on at 5.40am and finish at 7.20pm. Now that's over 13 hours, that's a breach of various legislation to protect public safety amongst other things."

Greater Wellington City Council chairman Chris Laidlaw said the first he had heard of the alleged breach of conditions was this morning.

"If there is a breach of the requirements then the company will have to make sure that doesn't happen again. But that's a matter between them and the government. We let out the contract but didn't specify hours."

Mr Laidlaw said the set-up of the project was a "huge ask" and that problems with timetables, routes and real-time information were being dealt with "around the clock".

However, there was little the council could do to help drivers in their pay except gain a better understanding for all parties, he said.

"We convened all of the parties in order to get some clarity as to what the differences were between New Zealand Bus pay rates and Tranzit pay rates," he said.

"So we commissioned an independent expert who went through this with a fine tooth comb ... presented the findings which showed that for the most part there were no differences in pay rates."

The findings in the report which was leaked showed that a number of the junior drivers were paid more and others, who had been working there for longer period, would be paid slightly less, Mr Laidlaw said.

However, Mr Laidlaw said the leaked report findings showed pay was not the issue.

Tranzit was finding it difficult to reach a resolution in an issue which was arising from "chronic shortage of drivers all around the country", he said.

He said a lot of the drivers had simply given up or returned to their home countries while taking redundancy or gone to Australia where there was potential for better pay.

While he said that most services were improved from the beginning of the week, he was not happy about the situation.

"We'll get there in the end but this is a bumpy ride and I apologise to anybody who's been disadvantaged by this ... and they're right to complain and we accept the complaints... All I can say is be patient."

RNZ has approached Tranzit for comment.