Tess Nichol is an NZME. News Service reporter.

Bus strike: Pay cash, get a free ride

First Union bus organiser Rudd Hughes said more than 100 Howick and Eastern drivers will let cash-paying customers on to their buses for free.
First Union bus organiser Rudd Hughes said more than 100 Howick and Eastern drivers will let cash-paying customers on to their buses for free.

Auckland bus drivers are refusing to handle cash for more than a week from tomorrow as they continue their bitter industrial dispute over the possible scrapping of overtime and weekend rates.

First Union bus organiser Rudd Hughes said more than 100 Howick and Eastern drivers will let cash-paying customers on to their buses for free, and would not sign on before their rostered shift starts, from 4am tomorrow until 4am on Friday next week.

"To prepare for their shifts drivers must arrive early, but this time isn't considered work time even though they are carrying out duties necessary for their work," Mr Hughes said.

Howick and Eastern Buses is being accused by First Union of repeatedly trying to remove weekend and overtime rates, which the union said is at the heart of the issue.

"Drivers often have to work over and above their rostered shifts and they deserve to be paid for the time that they lose with their families, friends and in the community.

"Howick and Eastern Buses don't value the drivers' personal time."

The strike will also include drivers refusing to drive buses with known safety defects, buses with a defective Hop card reader or ticketing machine, and buses without a working radio telephone or warrant of fitness and road user certificate.

The industrial action comes after Auckland bus drivers scored a victory in their dispute with NZ Bus after the Employment Relations Authority found the bus company had breached consultation requirements.

The bus company has been fined $10,000 and ordered to meet its obligations to consult with unions.

Employment Relations officer Vicki Campbell found NZ Bus did not provide enough time for union delegates to discuss new rosters with drivers before implementing them in July last year.

The new rosters were a significant shift, with rotating shifts requiring shifts of up to 10 or 11 hours at a time often with only 10 hours' break in between.

Many drivers would be moving from fixed or only partly rotating rosters to fully rotating rosters with long stretches of weekend work.

The union argued this would have a significant impact on drivers' work/life balance and needed to be discussed and understood by workers.

"This decision reinforces our view that Auckland Transport's (AT) model is broken," said First Union Transport and Logistics Secretary Karl Andersen.

"AT's rules and regulations put pressure on bus operators to disregard collective agreements and employment law. AT wants more routes, more buses and faster travel times, yet it wants it all at a lower and lower cost.

"This isn't sustainable and it means bus operators are under tremendous pressure to cut corners and bus drivers see their wages and conditions diminished."

Only three days were given by NZ Bus to union delegates to consult with workers about the changes, despite a manager for NZ Bus conceding the changes would have a significant impact on drivers' lives and in particular their ability to spend time with family.

The Authority ruled NZ Bus breached its requirement of good faith by not meeting its duty for meaningful consultation with unions and workers.

The decision is a win for drivers in an ongoing series of disputes with NZ Bus.

On February 19, drivers in Auckland went on strike, demanding better pay and work conditions including toilet breaks and break periods between shifts.

The dispute

Working conditions and pay issues have been a long-running source of tension between NZ Bus and unions.

Rotating rosters were introduced in July last year, significantly changing the nature of many drivers' working hours.

Some shifts were nearly 11 hours. In one example given to the Authority, unions showed how a driver would be required to come in at 6.20am, finishing at 6.02pm then returning the next day at 7.40am. After finishing their second shift at 7.01pm, the driver would be expected to come in for a third shift at 5.50am the next day, finishing at 3.02pm.

The short breaks between long shifts as well as inadequate toilet breaks while drivers were on shift were some of the union's main concerns in relation to working conditions.

The new rosters also had stretches where drivers would work five or six weekends in a row, something unions said would greatly impact on drivers' ability to spend time with their families.

On February 19 bus drivers went on strike, demanding a pay rise and better breaks on and between shifts. NZ Bus said its drivers were paid $20.40 an hour plus overtime, and was offering another 35 cents an hour but unions rejected that offer. First Union asked for $21 an hour for drivers.

The strike was followed by a round of stopwork meetings on February 22 and future strikes have not been ruled out if bus companies keep pushing back against unions' demands.

- NZ Herald

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