What do bus drivers in New Zealand actually get paid?

What do bus drivers in New Zealand actually get paid?
Photo credit: Getty/ file

Bus drivers are a hot button issue in Auckland and Wellington, with talk of strike action from drivers, claims of shortages, and blame being thrown around.

Much of the argument boils down to frustration over pay rates, with unions saying bus companies simply aren't offering them a fair deal.

So what do bus drivers actually get paid to get everyone from A to B?

First Union transport, logistics and manufacturing secretary Jared Abbott said pay rates can vary across the country, but would average around $20 per hour.

Ritchies, which wants to hire workers from overseas, offers its drivers a $17.55 starting rate and $20 for more experienced drivers.

In Wellington drivers are paid about $24 but up to $29, once various allowances are added to the base rate, while in Auckland the maximum is closer to around $22.

In Christchurch drivers earn around $20 an hour on average, with some dipping to $18 or in some cases "several dollars" for one small operator according to the Amalgamated Workers Union (AWUNZ).

Wellington is "the best place to be a bus driver," a Tramways Union spokesperson said, but there is a pay dispute going on with Tranzit at the moment.

The Government's career website says bus drivers earn from $17 to $23 per hour, based on information from Ritchies and NZ Bus.

What do bus drivers in New Zealand actually get paid?
Photo credit: Newshub

Some companies offer penal rates to drivers for overtime in addition to a base rate, or additional pay for working weekends, and some companies pay for 'book-off' time while others don't.

Book-off time refers to the hours that drivers spend at depots in between driving. A driver on a 12-hour shift might only be driving for eight of those hours, spending three or for hours in the middle sitting at the depot - which in some cases they are not paid to do.

"No one wants a job where you sit around for half the day," Mr Abbott said. He said once the book-off time is accounted for, some drivers are taking home as little as $10 an hour.

Pay rates vary between cities depending on which companies are employing drivers.

In recent days, bus company Ritchies has said it wants permission to recruit from overseas because it can't find New Zealand workers to fill a shortage of drivers.

Mr Abbott disputes this, saying there are qualified drivers around but companies can't fill their vacancies because they're not offering enough money.

He said it's common for companies to train up drivers, only for them to leave once they are qualified for jobs offering better pay such as trucking.

If the bus companies paid a higher rate, say $26 per hour, Mr Abbott says there would be "a flood of people coming back".

Unions in both Auckland and Wellington are frustrated with councils, who are offering contracts to companies that they say are offering unfair deals.

There's a threat of picket lines in Wellington this winter, and Mr Abbott says most unionised bus drivers in Auckland have recently voted for strike action in the coming months if things don't improve.

National leader Simon Bridges says it's happening because the new Government has emboldened unions to strike.

"They feel like their mates in the Labour party are in power and now it's payback time."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejected the accusation, saying: "Are we seeing now the reverberations of ongoing, across the board, a low wage economy in New Zealand? Yes, I think we are, and that is now bubbling to a head."