9 Dec 2019

Bus drivers march after NZ Bus lockout cancels services

6:47 pm on 9 December 2019

Thousands of commuters in Auckland will be affected again tomorrow, with the latest negotiations between the bus drivers' union and their employer failing to reach an agreement.

Hundreds of bus drivers marched on Queen St as negotiations between the union and NZ Bus continue.

Hundreds of bus drivers marched on Queen St as negotiations between the union and NZ Bus continue. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Drivers working for NZ Bus are asking for more pay and better working conditions, and the buses they drive are out of action until the dispute is settled.

First Union had been in negotiations all day, after an eleventh-hour meeting last night failed to reach a resolution, but they could not reach any agreement today.

Jared Abbott, secretary for transport at the union, said it was crazy that ratepayers were missing out on buses and 800 drivers not getting paid before Christmas.

"It's chaos and everyone seems to want to turn a blind eye and just hope that it's going away. We seem to be the only ones putting up foward-thinking solutions," he said.

"We want someone to listen to them and say actually that needs to happen. The mayor needs to get involved. The government needs to get involved. It has a big impact on the economy. Someone has to step in and show some leadership."

Matthew Hubble was among hundreds of Auckland bus drivers marching up Queen Street to Aotea Square today.

"It's bad timing. Even though I'm financially stable, I'm concerned for everyone else here because it's near Christmas and they can't afford to feed their families especially on a primary income that's not paid enough. It's not fair," he said.

He is among 800 NZ Bus drivers suspended from work last week after giving passengers free rides and rejecting a two percent pay increase.

Many earn $22 an hour or less, work long shifts, and say they find it hard to pay their bills.

Mr Hubble said he had decided to be a bus driver after he was assaulted at a bus stop but a bus driver leapt out of his bus to help.

"I came to be a bus driver because a bus driver saved my life five years ago. That's one of the many reasons why I became one because they're people who will be there. Regardless what's happening I'll always drive with a smile."

Auckland bus disruption: What you need to know

Fellow bus driver Newton Gonsalves took his 18-month-old daughter on the march.

"It's very hard to keep up with the bills so that's why I think we need a little bit more. We're not asking for a big piece of the pie, just a small slice," Mr Gonsalves said.

"I think Auckland Transport should take some interest in this. I blame Auckland Transport because they're the ones who issue the contracts."

People who rely on public transport to get to work have voiced their support for the bus drivers on social media.

Auckland Transport arranged substitute buses on two busy routes today, through another bus company Ritchies.

The agency said it did not directly employ bus drivers and was not directly involved in the negotiations between NZ Bus and the unions.

"As part of separate discussions Auckland Transport is proactively discussing with unions improving bus driver rest and meal breaks, work times and general conditions under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with bus operators, other councils, Ministry of Transport (MOT) and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)."

First Union assistant general secretary Louisa Jones marched with the bus drivers.

"Bus drivers live week to week, these are not great rates - the drivers are on about $22 an hour, they work 12-hour shifts with long breaks in the middle that are unpaid breaks. No one can afford to be without their wages, particularly not drivers before Christmas," Ms Jones said.

She said the buck stopped with Auckland Transport because bus companies had to compete for contracts and the lowest price wins.

Until the industrial dispute is settled, all bus services operated by NZ Bus will not be running.

While the bus service disruption continues, Auckland Transport is keeping commuters updated on the affected routes via its website and social media.

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