Bus drivers push for more 'urgency' in bus dispute

Bus drivers push for more 'urgency' in bus dispute
Photo credit: File

Thousands of Auckland commuters may be affected by bus strikes this week.

More than 50 routes will be suspended for a number of hours as an industrial standoff continues, while on some other routes drivers will refuse to charge fares from passengers.

Buses on the affected routes would not operate between 4am and 8am on Monday and Tuesday, Auckland Transport said.

The affected routes included some of the city's busiest, such as along Dominion, Sandringham, Mt Eden and Manukau Roads, as well as the CityLink, InnerLink, OuterLink and TāmakiLink.

The full list of cancelled routes can be seen on Auckland Transport's website.

The suspension of services comes as Auckland bus drivers call on officials to accelerate pay negotiations.

Drivers from NZ Bus met with the company on Thursday last week, but voted not to accept a settlement.

Following the meeting, FIRST Union announced drivers would go partial strike, refusing to take fares from passengers.

"To their credit they did meet with us last week and said they were open to discussing some of these solutions, but I don't think they understood the urgency of it," says Jared Abbott, FIRST Union's secretary for transport, operations and logistics.

The strike also involves drivers belonging to the Tramways Union. More than 800 drivers will take part overall.

The announcement follows a similar move by drivers from Go Bus, who the union said was refusing to charge fares to passengers travelling from the Mangere and East Tamaki depots.

Abbott says the industrial action is a way to get the drivers' message through without negatively affecting commuters. 

"Drivers are set up and they will take action, while at the same time not having a negative impact on the public. In fact, if anything it's likely to have a positive impact," says Abbott.  

But Go Bus HR director Kura Poulava says the strike endangers drivers. Bus rides will not be free on its services in south and east Auckland, says Poulava.

"By encouraging the small number of union members it has in Auckland to stop collecting fares, FIRST Union is placing the safety of the majority of bus drivers who are working normally at potential risk," Poulava said in a statement on Friday.

"We know from experience these drivers are at risk of intimidation and even assault from members of the public who believe their rides will be free.  Promoting such a situation as this is completely irresponsible and needs to stop before someone is hurt."

Abbott says there is a critical shortage of drivers because staff leave for higher-paying jobs.

"You're seeing companies invest huge amounts of money and training people that only stick around in the job for a couple of months, and then leave to another industry when they realise just how bad it is."

On Friday, NZ Bus chief executive Barry Hinkley said he was disappointed.

"Our door remains open for the unions to restart a dialogue to resolve this situation as quickly as possible," he said.

"The unions' claims include an increase in hourly pay with meal breaks that would see drivers receiving a raise of nearly 45 percent, while wages for weekend work would go up by over 100 percent.

"It's a big decision for staff to strike in the lead-up to Christmas. We'd encourage the unions to come back and negotiate so we can reach a deal."