8 Apr 2021

Wellington bus operators paying drivers living wage say proposal rewards those that don't

5:31 pm on 8 April 2021

Bus drivers in Wellington are one stop closer to getting paid the living wage, but there are still some bumps in the road.

A bus driver during level 2 in Wellington on15 February 2021

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) this morning agreed to fund the operators, some of which do not yet pay their drivers the living wage.

Speaking before the decision was made, a representative of some of the operators asked them to push it back by a few weeks.

"Our simple request is for you to delay consideration of this paper for a few extra weeks," Transdev managing director Greg Pollock said.

Pollock was also speaking on behalf of other regional operators Tranzurban and Uzabus. Collectively, they make up 70 percent of the bus network.

He said all they supported drivers being paid the living wage, but he had concerns with the plan in its current form.

"The detail of the proposal, as outlined in the report on your agenda, has a potential to create a number of problems and inequalities for bus drivers.

"As your partners in delivering bus services, and as the employers of bus drivers, we have had little input into the detail and shape of the proposal."

He worried that because the operators he represented already paid their drivers a living wage, they would miss out on this extra funding.

It was raised that the proposal would reward operators who made the deliberate commercial decision to pay below the living wage, to the detriment of the operators who paid base rates above that.

Pollock said they should be given more time to discuss with GWRC directly, and assess what material benefit they would receive instead, but his request went unheeded - councillors unanimously approved the decision.

However, within the detail of the paper, the council clarified discussions would continue with other operators.

As a result, more than 300 drivers - about half the total for the region - will have their pay lifted to the living wage of $22.10 an hour.

Overall, it is estimated to cost between $1.65 million and $1.85 million, with costs split almost exactly in half by the Regional Coucil and Waka Kotahi.

"It's a major, momentous decision which has been a long time coming, but it's a great day," said Roger Blakeley, the chair of the council's transport committee.

The council agreed in 2016 to become a Living Wage employer.

"[It's] absolutely long overdue," Blakeley said. "It's a tough job being a bus driver, and as I admire each day the difficulty of throwing a big yellow bus around our narrow, winding streets, and the huge public safety and accountability as part of that job, the least they deserve [is] the living wage."

There remains some tricky turns to navigate.

NZ Bus - one of the operators in the Wellington region which does not pay drivers a base rate of the living wage - is in negotiations with the Tramways Union at the Employment Relations Authority.

Graham Clarke from the union attended this morning's council meeting.

"New Zealand Bus is trying to gut the hours of work controls and shift people in Wellington to the Auckland agreement, which the Auckland union would like to ditch and move to the Wellington agreement, in terms of control over hours.

"So there's a lot to be talked about."

If that cannot be resolved, there will be strikes, and if it is not resolved soon the living wage will not begin on its current start date of 19 April.

NZ Bus did not respond to a request for comment.

All of this is at a time when the network is short of drivers, and service cancellations are racking up.

Clarke said boosting pay would not be a silver bullet to improving work conditions, and shifts need to be on the discussion table.

"Drivers work a 14-hour day, they have split shifts, so they turn up for work and work two hours, then they have an hour off here, work for another two hours, then an hour off there.

"Breaks at places that don't have any facilities. I've had drivers talk to me about bringing a toilet roll to work so they can use it when they need to go behind a bush.

"It's just not treating people with dignity or respect."

GWRC will also pen a letter to Minister of Transport Michael Wood requesting a uniform national fair pay agreement for all operators and drivers to sign up to.

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