NZ Bus issues lockout notice to striking drivers, citing concerns over further 'surprise attack strikes'

New Zealand's largest bus company has issued a lockout notice to its Wellington drivers, saying a proposed strike and the threat of further industrial action have left it with no other choice.

It comes as the Tramways Union on Thursday announced NZ Bus drivers based in the capital would refuse to go into work on Friday, following a months-long stalemate on wage increases. The proposed strike will disrupt numerous bus services.

NZ Bus said on Thursday it's been forced to lock out its drivers, as Friday's disruption and the looming threat of further "surprise attack strikes" means it can no longer guarantee the safety and reliability of its services for passengers.

"We thought long and hard about this and regret that we've had to take this step, but we have no option," a statement reads.

"We have made a good offer to our drivers, with significant pay increases, but after eight months of bargaining, the union has refused to move at all. The offer provides full-time employment for all our drivers and the best pay and conditions in the industry."

The deal would see the starting rate for NZ Bus drivers increase to $23.75 an hour - a dollar above what the living wage will be when it's increased this September - but would also remove several benefits highly valued by drivers.

Among the proposed changes are a week's reduction in annual leave, the removal of double-pay on Sundays, public holidays and after midnight, and less protections in disciplinary matters.

A bus driver for NZ Bus, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Newshub she understands the lockout means drivers can't go to work even if they wanted to. 

"I feel angry, stressed - really stressed. A few days you can hold off creditors, but I don't know how long this will be," she said. "I don't even know how we will survive - me, my family and other drivers in that position."

The driver said she understands the lockout will stay in place until union members agree to NZ Bus' latest offer.

The Tramways Union says the pay dispute with NZ Bus broke down last month. That followed months of negotiations stemming back to August 2020.

NZ Bus hasn't said how long the lockout is likely to last.