A petition calling for action over the low wages of Hawke's Bay bus drivers has lit a fire under the Hawke's Bay Regional Council.
Earlier this week a First Union petition signed by 114 residents, which blamed tendering contracts between the council and Go Bus for low wages, was received by the council's corporate and strategic committee.
The petition stated the employees of Go Bus were paid "substantially below" the living wage. The union had been negotiating with the operator for a collective agreement which would provide the living wage.
Unlike the legal minimum wage, the living wage is a voluntary rate deemed enough to pay for life's necessities - food, housing, transport. It is calculated for 2017 at $20.20 per hour, $4.55 more than the minimum wage which is the hourly rate.
"The company blames the council for our low wages, citing the tendering contracts as the main cause of low pay," the petition stated.
"We need you to take action and make a difference, to our lives, the lives of our families and the life of our community, by changing the tendering contracts, to ensure a living wage for bus drivers."
The current wages of staff were not on hand for the meeting yesterday, but drivers have said many are earning below the minimum wage.
Councillor Paul Bailey, who received the petition, said he felt drivers deserved at least the living wage.
"Some of them take my kids from Napier to Hastings for school and back every day. I would like to know they're well remunerated for the role they do in looking after my children and keeping them safe and secure on that trip every school day."
Council chief executive James Palmer said all council staff were paid above the living wage. However there were a large number of contractors, and developing a wage-policy around them would be challenging.
During a protest outside council this month when Mr Bailey received the petition, bus drivers also called for an end to the tendering model which sees public bus services contracted out.
They said this meant private providers won the contract based on who could cut cost best, meaning - in practice - who could drive down wages and conditions.
Council external relations group manager Liz Lambert said the council was in the first of a nine-year contract with Go Bus. This had annual adjustment for inflation, including for fuel, operations, and wage costs.
The council was currently reviewing its tendering policy, with a view to ensuring employees of contracted service providers were paid at least the living wage.
Committee chair Neil Kirton said the council would have to consider the ramifications of any changes "across the board" - including how it would affect its bottom line.
Go Bus Operations Director Darryl Bellamy refuted "emphatically the inference that ANY driver employed by Go Bus is paid at a rate which is below the minimum wage".
"The fact is Go Bus offers competitive rates and excellent working conditions to its drivers across the country, and has a history of increasing rates higher than inflation.
"Contracts for services have been won by Go Bus on merit, including based on the quality of services offered. We have a strong track record of providing passenger transport in urban areas that lead to improved choices by providing a reliable, efficient and modern public transport service".