29 Nov 2019

Auckland buses to give free rides due to strike action

5:35 pm on 29 November 2019

About half of all Auckland bus trips will be free next week, as bus drivers strike and refuse to accept payment from passengers.

The 125X at Westgate's interim bus hub

About half of all Auckland bus trips will be free next week. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Eight hundred members of the First and New Zealand Tramways Unions have voted not to accept a pay offer made by NZ Bus, Auckland's largest bus company.

So from Monday to Friday, drivers on NZ Bus services will turn down cash and encourage people not to tag on or off.

NZ Bus said the unions are asking for pay increases of nearly 45 percent, and they hope to resolve the situation as soon as possible.

First Union's Jared Abbott said the strike let the company and Auckland Transport know drivers were not getting a fair deal, without disrupting passengers.

"It's a way the community can get to and from work and get a bit of bang for buck out of the ratepayers' money. But it also sends the message directly to Auckland Transport who really are the economic employer here," Mr Abbott said.

He said the actual employer, NZ Bus, had its hands tied by Auckland Transport, which contracted them for the service. Mr Abbott said Auckland Transport drove such a hard bargain for anyone to win the contract that now there was no money to lift poor standards for drivers.

"What's really going on is there's not really any room for these companies to negotiate because they're locked into contracts that essentially don't have room to move in terms of the funding model."

But NZ Bus said the unions were asking for increases up to an extra $8 an hour - nearly 45 percent - other penal rate increases for weekends and after midnight and an extra weeks' annual leave.

Chief executive Barry Hinkley said he was disappointed strike action was being taken after two meetings on pay discussions.

"We were in the process of negotiating when First Union and Tramways gave notice of the strike action," Mr Hinkley said.

"The unions' claims include an increase in hourly pay with meal breaks that would see drivers receiving a raise of nearly 45 percent. While wage costs for weekend work would go up by over 100 percent."

The Public Transport Operating Model, introduced by the government in 2011, was intended to move public transport services towards being fully commercial and not reliant on public subsidy.

"We saw bus drivers' conditions drop by around 30 percent and they've never made that money up," Mr Abbott said.

He said the drivers, often working split shifts with time off in the middle of the day, are paid between $18 and $22 an hour, but want closer to $25.

Fares will not be collected on NZ Bus-operated services, but will still have to be paid on other operators, such as Ritchies, which are also contracted by Auckland Transport.

NZ Bus drivers join their Go Bus-employed colleagues, who are not collecting fares on buses departing from Mangere and East Tamaki depots.