Waikato bus lockout: 72yo works 12-hour shifts to avoid becoming homeless

Colin says he doesn't expect to ever be able to retire.
Colin says he doesn't expect to ever be able to retire. Photo credit: Facebook / Bus Fair NZ

Bus drivers are sharing their heartbreaking struggles after Hamilton strikes escalated to the point of a full-blown lockout of union members.

On Monday morning, GO Bus issued an indefinite lockout notice to almost 100 unionised drivers after more than a year of employment disputes.

The previous Friday, FIRST Union members had announced they would allow passengers to ride for free for two weeks as a form of protest.

GO Bus opted to prevent unionised drivers from working, citing concerns for non-union drivers who may have been abused for not letting their own passengers take the bus for free.

FIRST called the move "retaliatory", and Union Divisional Secretary Jared Abbott says locking out low-wage workers just weeks before Christmas is "appalling".

More than 100 drivers spent the day picketing the lockout, some blocking buses from leaving the Hamilton depot on Monday morning which caused service delays.

Unionised GO Bus drivers have demanded to be paid the living wage of $20.55/hour. Some employees are currently earning as little as $17.30/hour, according to FIRST.

FIRST has shared the personal stories of a number of its members to help Kiwis understand their situation - including that of 72-year-old Colin.

The union says he makes $19/hour, works 12-hour shifts five days a week and doesn't expect to ever be able to retire.

"If I don't work, I can't pay rent - and if I can't pay rent I will live on the street and the council wouldn't care," he told the union.

Another member, Lorraine, has worked as a bus driver for 11 years. She says on Sunday, one of her regular passengers heard about the lockout and offered her a hot meal at their home any time she wants.

Bob has been driving for 12 years and makes just $19/hour. He and his wife are the caregivers for their young grandchildren - two-year-old twins who attended Monday's picket and their three-year-old brother.

"My whole life is about these little ones," he says. "I said to this kuia [his wife], 'I'm too old to look after little ones' but she said, 'No Robert, they are too young to look after themselves'."

FIRST Union says the local Hamilton community has been supportive of the protests, and donations for the locked out drivers have been flooding in.