Wellington bus drivers are standing resolute against a "deeply frustrating" lockout notice issued by NZ Bus following their planned strike action today.
Following the Tramways Union's announcement that Wellington bus drivers would strike for 24 hours from 4am Friday, NZ Bus issued an indefinite lockout notice.
This would effectively bar striking bus drivers from returning to work after the planned strike was complete.
Around 50 bus drivers and supporters gathered at Kilbirnie Depot on Friday morning.
Bus driver Malcolm Craigie said they were there to protest for a decent living wage and no reduction in conditions.
"They're not even paying us the legal minimum wage - $20 an hour - so we need to go up to that," he said.
"We also want to go up to the living wage – $22.10 - and maintain our penal rates. We get a lot of our income by working unsocial hours, weekends, late at night."
"We just want a decent living wage out of it."
He said the lockout notice issued by NZ Bus was "deeply frustrating".
"We want to go back to work, we want to serve the public and get the city rolling again but we can't do that now because of this lockout notice."
Former bus driver Peter Morgan called the bus operating model a "dismal failure".
"The lockout is a knee-jerk reaction to the drivers electing to go on strike as a result of terms and conditions being diminished," he said.
"I would personally like to see it back under the Wellington City Council banner ... private enterprise has no business in a service industry to the public."
The Tramways Union advised on Thursday morning Wellington bus drivers would be on strike for 24 hours from 4am Friday, affecting 26 services in the capital.
The NZ Bus routes affected by the strike on Friday are: 2, 3, 21, 22, 12, 12e, 13, 14, 18e, 20, 28, 30x, 31x, 33, 34, 34, 36,37,81, 83, 84, 85x, N2, N3, N8, and N88.
Last week union members voted in favour of strike action following what they said was a breakdown in pay negotiations with NZ Bus.
The Council of Trade Unions and Greater Wellington Regional Council were also "appalled" at the lockout notice issued to Wellington bus drivers following their notice of strike.
Greater Wellington Regional Council Chair Daran Ponter said NZ Bus had taken the "nuclear option", which was "entirely uneccessary".
"I understand that they're as equally frustrated as we are about the fact that the Unions have called for a strike tomorrow," he said.
"But I don't think that serving a notice on Wellington commuters that drivers are going to be indefinitely locked out - and therefore our Metlink service is going to be thrown up into the air for the forseeable future - is a proportionate response to a one-day strike."
Council would be issuing a fine to NZ Bus, but Ponter was unsure if this would deter their actions. Their hope was to have Tramways Union and NZ Bus in a room to negotiate, which both parties had actually agreed to earlier on Thursday.
"They agreed to a council-facilitated remediation so it is disappointing to see from NZ Bus Next Capital this notice of lockout," he said.
"The sensible and adult thing to do quite frankly is for the parties to get back in a room and start negotiating again rather than flinging strike notices and lockout notices at each other, because the only people that lose here are the drivers and the Wellington commuters."
Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff said they were appalled NZ Bus had issued a lockout notice to their "loyal workforce".
"To lock them out indefinitely is really just to bludgeon them into submission so they accept the terms of lower conditions of work," he said.
"These drivers have kept us going in Wellington during the pandemic – every day in, day out, they get us to work.
People across Wellington will be appalled that the people who take them to work every day are being forced into reducing their conditions because of a big corporate bully.
With a shortage of bus drivers, Wagstaff said these tactics from NZ Bus, owned by Australian entity Next Capital, were "self-defeating".
"They can't attract enough people to the industry because the conditions are so poor, and what's the industry's solution? Reduce the conditions further still."
He did not see how the Australia-owned company could come back from this action.
"This is not the way we do things in New Zealand and certainly not the way we should be doing things in Wellington to our drivers," he said.
"This is a case of a big Aussie capital venture fund, thinking they can play by these kinds of rules in our country, and it has no place here."
"People across Wellington will be appalled that the people who take them to work every day are being forced into reducing their conditions because of a big corporate bully."