Bus strike: Auckland still on the move

By Amelia Wade, Susan Strongman

Traffic congestion on Auckland's Hobson Street this afternoon after a 24 hour NZ Bus strike was announced. Photo / Doug Sherring
Traffic congestion on Auckland's Hobson Street this afternoon after a 24 hour NZ Bus strike was announced. Photo / Doug Sherring

After two months of industrial action and four days of negotiations, the bitter dispute between drivers and their employer, NZ Bus, has reached a head with a 24-hour strike, cutting 70 per cent of Auckland's bus services. Traffic in the city is expected to be heavy and some 70,000 commuters will be affected. Join us for rolling coverage.

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6.15pm: Traffic is looking to calm down, according to NZTA, with only a few areas of congestion visible.

5.55pm: According to NZTA, there is congestion still in some areas, including:

• Hobson St,
• SH1 southbound between spaghetti junction and Newmarket,
• Dominion Rd between Newton and Balmoral Rd,
• The Northwestern Motorway between Western Springs and Rosebank Rd,
• Mangere Rd between Great South Rd and the Southwestern Motorway,
• And the Northern Motorway southbound, between Onewa Rd and Akoranga bus station.

5:20pm: Rick Morin says it looks like things improving slightly now on Southern Motorway - Hobson to Manukau travel time is down to 74 mins. Still not great but probably won't get worse at this stage.


4.55pm: The Southern Motorway (southbound) is now taking 88 minutes from city to Manukau, Time Saver Traffic's Rick Morin says.



4.45pm: Don't forget it's illegal to use the bus lanes (unless you're a bus, cyclist, or on a motorbike or scooter) as they need to be free for the remaining buses and cyclists.

Bus drivers picketing at Ti Rakau

Photo / Susan Strongman
Photo / Susan Strongman
Photo / Susan Strongman
Photo / Susan Strongman
Photo / Susan Strongman
Photo / Susan Strongman


READ MORE
Richard Wagstaff: Bus dispute needs long term strategic approach

4.25pm: Time Saver Traffic's Rick Morin says the Southern Motorway is showing the most traffic activity at the moment.

"Nothing too outrageous; Southbound is especially heavy but that could be related to an earlier crash at Hill Rd rather than the bus strike, so pretty good so far with only slightly heavier than normal Friday afternoon traffic."

Find the latest updates at http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/traffic/auckland/

4:10pm: The latest traffic map from the NZTA.

3.58pm: For live updates of motorways congestion, go to http://www.nzta.govt.nz/traffic/journeys/3


3.45pm: An Auckland Transport spokesman said the afternoon rush had started early, but there were no issues so far.

3.39pm: Labour MP David Cunliffe tweeted earlier today that he thought the bus strike was "a necessary push for better pay conditions."



3.30pm: Herald reporter Lynley Bilby says she just travelled past traffic snarled up for several blocks stretching down Hobson St and waiting to get on an already clogged spaghetti junction (heading south).

"Traffic queue backed up a couple of kilometres to get onto southern from northwest motorway, but northwest heading out of town flowing freely."

3.25pm: The Herald will resume a live blog of Auckland traffic at 3.30pm, as a bus strike threatens to cause Friday afternoon traffic chaos. Share your photos and comments by emailing newsdesk@nzherald.co.nz with the subject like Bus Strike, or using hashtag #BusStrike on social media.

10am: We are wrapping up the live blog but will return to it at peak hour.

Check Timesaver Traffic here

8.40am: Timesaver traffic is reporting the Northern Motorway is heavy citybound between Constellation and Esmonde Rds. There is also a minor crash at Onewa Rd, partially blocking the right lane.

On the Southern, citybound traffic is heavy between Mt Wellington and Greenlane while the Northwestern is heavy between Westgate and the Causeway.

8.30am: At NZ Bus' Swanson depot, about 80 drivers are picketing with signs, fluorescent vests, chants and horns.

One driver has gone rogue and has started throwing eggs at company management heading through the picket to work.


"There was no intention to throw eggs, but now he's gone through a whole tray already," another driver told the Herald.

He also said 100 per cent of comments from the public had been positive and supportive and the drivers are getting lots of honks from passing motorists. The barbecue has been fired up for a breakfast of steak and eggs.

Bus drivers strike at NZ Bus' Swanson depot. Photo / Supplied
Bus drivers strike at NZ Bus' Swanson depot. Photo / Supplied

On Dominion Rd, police are stopping motorists using the bus lanes. It is illegal for cars to be in a bus lane and even though 70 per cent of buses are cancelled today, the lanes need to be free for the remaining buses and cyclists.

Commuter Toa Greening said she carpooled with two others from Manukau to Takapuna and left at the normal time of 6:25am. Traffic was lighter than normal for a Friday and they were in Takapuna by 6:50am.

Police are stopping people using bus lanes on Dominion Rd. Photo / Supplied
Police are stopping people using bus lanes on Dominion Rd. Photo / Supplied

8.10am: Commuters report the few buses that remain on the road are packed to capacity as are trains on the city's rail network.


8.07am: One commuter who usually catches the bus from Ponsonby walked this morning and said there was much heavier foot traffic than usual.

"I've never seen so many people walking down Franklin Rd."

7.50am: NZTA is reporting a breakdown is blocking the right lane city-bound on the Causeway on the North Western. Traffic is getting congested and backing up quickly.

7.40am: Time Saver traffic is reporting that all the motorways are extra heavy this morning and is reminding motorists to stay out of the bus lanes and be patient on their journeys.

NZTA's traffic cameras show traffic is already backed up to Greville Rd, southbound on SH1 and to Greenlane Rd northbound.

7.36am: There currently hasn't been any Uber surge.

7.15am: NZTA said traffic was not only heavy on all three Auckland motorways but local roads now had more traffic than usual.


7.07am: Newstalk ZB's Timesaver Traffic is reporting an hour coming into the city from Papakura.

7.00am: Motorists are hitting the road early to avoid predicted nightmare congestion on Auckland's motorways and streets as a 24-hour bus strike gets underway in the city.

Industrial action by the city's bus drivers began at 4am, with some 70,000 commuters expected to find an alternate means to get to work today.

Early morning drivers are already noticing an increase in traffic with more vehicles than usual travelling on motorways.

NZ TA tweeted a picture of clogged lanes on the Northern Motorway, and warned commuters that traffic was already heavy and urged them to be patient.

6:50AM TRAFFIC UPDATEGood morning everyone! Traffic is already heavy on all three motorways. Local roads also seem to...

Posted by NZ Transport Agency - Auckland & Northland on Thursday, February 18, 2016

Meanwhile traffic is light on urban motorways throughout the rest of the country.

Footage from New Zealand Transport Authority live cameras show very few vehicles travelling on Wellington's Ngauranga Gorge.

And further south there's absolutely no traffic showing on Dunedin's southern motorway.

Here's everything Aucklanders need to know to get them through the day.

THE NUMBERS:

• 70,000 commuters
• 5000 services cancelled
• 70 per cent of Auckland's bus network
• 100 Auckland Transport handing out flyers at bus stops.

SERVICES AFFECTED:

• Link
• MetroLink
• NorthStar
• GoWest
• Waka Pacific
• Some Howick & Eastern services
• Some NiteRider services

ADVICE ON GETTING TO WORK:

• Walk or cycle
• Use an alternative public transport option. Trains, ferries and some bus services are still operating as usual.
• Car pool or car share
• Ask your boss if you can work from home or start earlier or later to avoid rush hour.

WHAT CAUSED THE STRIKE?

After two months of industrial action and four days of negotiations, the bitter dispute between drivers and their employer, NZ Bus, has reached a head with a 24-hour strike, cutting 70 per cent of Auckland's bus services. The unions want shorter work days and better pay but NZ Bus says its hands are tied by the Government's work regulations and believes the pay rise it has offered drivers is fair. The drivers are prepared to go "all the way" and accept that it might lead to a lockout.

READ MORE: Uber prices could double during bus strike.

Meanwhile, Auckland Transport is tendering contracts for its new bus network. NZ Bus has already lost its southern services to Wellington bus company Go Bus, which pays its drivers about $2 less an hour and no overtime. This has put more than 200 jobs in jeopardy and the union admits the industrial action might harm NZ Bus' chances of holding onto its other Auckland contracts.

But Auckland Transport says the dispute is between the employees and their employer and refuses to comment on whether it is harming NZ Bus' tendering process.

WHO ARE THE MAIN PLAYERS?

• NZ Bus and its 1100 drivers who are represented by the Tramways Union.
• Howick & Eastern and 117 of its drivers who in the First Union.
• Auckland Transport holds the contracts of which companies operate on its network. It is currently tendering new contracts for a redesigned bus network.

WHAT DO THE DRIVERS WANT?

• To reduce the current working day from 13 hours to 12 hours. Currently, some drivers can be away from home up to 15 hours.
• Drivers working broken shifts want to reduce the current four-hour unpaid break to three hours.
• To reduce the current 5.5 hours driving time without a break to 4.5 hours.
• A say in how rosters are constructed at NZ Bus.
• Improved run times to provide enough time to complete timetable trips in safety.
• Improved rest breaks and toilet stops.
• The hourly starting rate is $16.37, rising to $20.40 after nine months. They want an additional 60 cents per hour or 2.95 per cent.

WHAT HAS NZ BUS OFFERED?

• It is proposing to move wages forward from $20.40 hour to $20.75 with overtime - which is a 1.7 per cent increase and the company says it is well ahead of inflation.
• It says its drivers earn the best terms and conditions in the industry.
• Some bus operators pay a couple of dollars less an hour with no overtime.
• It is not proposing to take wages backwards.
• It is not going to remove time-and-a-quarter and time-and-a-half overtime.

WHY CAN'T THEY AGREE?

NZ Bus' northern chief operating officer Shane McMahon said the Tramways Union's demands of $21 an hour are unrealistic and unsustainable given the increasingly competitive climate.

"In the current environment where we are tendering for work, a 10 per cent increase in wages is not sustainable."

However, Tramways Union president Gary Froggatt said he believed there was enough room in the $435.4 million net parent surplus of Infratil, NZ Bus' umbrella company, to take a hit and pay the drivers more without jeopardising its tender offers to Auckland Transport.

Mr McMahon also said the union had been outspoken in the media about their lack of toilet breaks on each duty, but the issue had not been tabled in bargaining.

"The fact is drivers get short breaks between trips, with time to go to the toilet. We are aware there is an issue with a shortage of toilet facilities in certain locations, and NZ Bus has been working with Auckland Transport to resolve this."

Mr McMahon said the work time rules for the industry were set by the NZ Transport Agency and are the same for all operators. The unions should be taking that matter up with the central government, not them.

Mr Froggatt said the union was going through the Council of Trade Unions to get the regulations changed nationally but, for now, he said NZ Bus could change its rosters and allow drivers to be part of the process which would help shorten their long work days.

Meanwhile, the 117 Howick & Eastern drivers who are in First Union are striking at the same time because their employer, Brian Souter, is attempting to reduce their wages and conditions

WHEN ARE THEY NEXT NEGOTIATING?

NZ Bus has proposed Monday week, but the unions have not yet agreed to this date.

HAVEN'T THEY GONE ON STRIKE BEFORE?

Yes, the drivers have walked off the job twice in the past three months for stopwork meetings and since last Friday have been following a "work to rule" action, meaning they are following the company's rules to the letter. However, this hasn't put enough pressure on NZ Bus so now they are ramping up industrial action.

The last time the dispute escalated to this degree was in 2009. The drivers rejected an offer of a 10.5 per cent pay increase over three years and took action so the company locked out the drivers for a week, disrupting thousands of commuters. In order to resolve the dispute, the unions called in an Employment Relations Authority facilitator who said he had "a great deal of respect for the work of bus drivers and the conditions under which they provide [an] extremely valuable service in often trying and occasionally dangerous circumstances".

However, he was satisfied that NZ Bus was not in a financial position to meet a major realignment of bus drivers' wages and said it was an industry problem.

Mr Froggatt said the drivers are prepared for another lock-out this time around but Mr McMahon said he was focused on limiting disruption for their customers.

HOW CAN THE DRIVERS DISRUPT COMMUTERS?

Basically, their service is their only leverage over their company. Professor of work and employment and AUT University, Erling Rasmussen, said there were basic rules set out in the Employment Relations Act that state when unionised workers are allowed to strike and how much notice has to be given.

WHY AREN'T OTHER BUS COMPANIES STRIKING?

Union members can only take industrial action during bargaining, which only happens at the end of a contract. NZ Bus and Howick & Eastern are currently the only companies in this position at this time.

WHAT IS AUCKLAND TRANSPORT DOING ABOUT THE STRIKE?

Auckland Transport is putting on additional trains and its entire 17-strong double-decker bus will be on the Northern Express network tomorrow morning to try ease as much pressure as possible.

It also has 100 ambassadors distributing flyers informing commuters about the strike and which bus services are affected.

The organisation's bus services manager, Brendon Main, urged parents to check whether their child's school bus is one of the 120 affected and to find an alternative way of getting them to class.

"We don't want any kids left on the side of the road."

The live information boards at bus stops will not show cancelled services but Auckland Transport's journey planner on its website will continue to use services that aren't running.

WHAT DOES THE TENDERING PROCESS FOR AUCKLAND TRANSPORT'S NEW CONTRACTS HAVE TO DO WITH THIS?

One of the unions' big concerns is that Auckland Transport has recently awarded new contracts for all of Auckland's southern routes and NZ Bus has lost all of their work. Mr Froggatt said this will result in the loss of 250 jobs and the three new companies taking over pay less than at NZ bus.

"Existing staff cannot go to work for the a new employer, unless they leave early, as NZ Bus has to continue operating right up to the day before the changeover in October.

"We believe that local authorities tendering out existing work should be required to have in their tender offers a clause that requires successful bidders to transfer all employees that wish to do so, along with their existing employment agreements for say a period of 12 months," Mr Froggatt said.

Mr Main confirmed to the Herald that there is no transfer of wages and work conditions for drivers moving to a new operator written into the contracts.

"Our responsibility is to get the best value we can for our ratepayers. We had to keep the market competitive."

First Union organiser Rudd Hughes said he had a "great deal of sympathy" for NZ Bus and Howick & Eastern because they worked hard to meet the targets set by Auckland Transport, including punctuality and service, but lost out to the companies offering cheaper contracts.

"It came down to the lowest common denominator, which was dollars and cents."

- NZ Herald

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