Auckland commuters are under renewed threat of disruption after bus drivers voted today to hold all-day strikes every Monday for the next eight weeks.
That followed what NZ Bus said was a "bizarre twist'' in which the drivers rejected a pay deal negotiated last week by Tramways and First union representatives, and supported by Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly, under an earlier strike threat.
If the strikes cannot be headed off with more pay talks yet to be arranged this week, up to 130,000 passengers of Auckland's largest bus fleet face disruption on every day it is off the road.
"Negotiating with this group is a bit like Groundhog Day - it's hugely frustrating,'' company chief operating officer Shane McMahon said of the impasse.
"We worked very hard to see their point of view, worked constructively with them and reached agreement which they endorsed, and then they vote it down.''
Tramways Union Auckland president Gary Froggatt confirmed that the drivers had defied their negotiators' recommendation to accept the deal, but said the company had upset the apple-cart by introducing controversial new rosters to two of its depots in the midst of the pay dispute.
"That really got the drivers angry,'' he said.
It meant working more weekends and longer shifts, many of which would entail driving to the maximum of 5 hours allowed by law before taking a break.
Mr Froggatt said that of 619 drivers who attended a paid stopwork meeting today - for which a four-hour halt was called to off-peak bus services - 57 per cent voted to reject the company's offer of a 6.55 per cent rise in three instalments over 27 months from their existing hourly rate of $18.75c.
He said they wanted it paid in two lots - as a 75c rise now to $19.50c an hour and a final 50c instalment in July, to $20.
Bosses' offer, workers' counter-claim
Drivers' pay: $18.75 an hour
Company offer: September 2012 - 40c an hour increase (backdated to July) to $19.15
July 2013 - 40c, to $19.55
December 2013 - 45c, to $20
Drivers' revised claim: Sept 2012 - 75c an hour to $19.50
July 2013 - 50c to $20