Stressed, anxious bus drivers ask Government for help

Stressed, anxious bus drivers ask Government for help
Photo credit: Getty/ file

Bus drivers are calling on the Government to add them to its list of vulnerable workers, as they experience stress and anxiety as a result of job insecurity. 

Wellington bus driver Wendy Parsons told a Select Committee that stress over job insecurity over the past 18 months has caused her to break down on the job.

"I've had to stop driving in the middle of my trips because I've been crying. Passengers have been waiting for my bus and I can't continue driving because I'm too upset," she told the committee on Wednesday. 

"It's been hard to carry out this service with a smile on my face when you're facing job loss, not enough money to live on and you're feeling under-valued."

Wellington bus drivers say they'll be up to $200 worse off per week under new contractor Tranzit, who have the major share of contracts offered by the Wellington Regional Council.

The Tramways Union, which represents 700 Wellington bus drivers, appealed to the Committee for bus drivers to be added to the list of Vulnerable Workers under the Employment Relations Act.

It says it's been trying to negotiate for staff to be transferred from NZ Bus on equivalent terms and conditions, but Tranzit is refusing to discuss exactly what the pay rates will be.

Ms Parsons told Newshub she's been offered a job with Tranzit at a flat rate of $22 per hour - but her current job entitles her to penalty rates at weekends, which bumps up her wages.

"Please protect us from other future wage and condition cuts," she said.

Driver Ivana Sheck said uncertainty has made him and other drivers anxious.

"Try telling the landlord or the bank manager, 'My hours have been reduced, my work has been reduced, can you pause the payments?'"

But Barbara Donaldson, Chair of the Sustainable Transport Committee, said it's not true to say that drivers will be worse off.  "Most will be better off," she said.

The GWRC website says the contracting environment implemented through the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) has enabled it to take a fresh approach to how services are delivered.

Tranzit describes driver claims they'll be worse off as "total rubbish".

"We'll be paying $22.20 per hour. Drivers are currently paid $19.35 so that a 14 percent increase, or $134 per week," managing director Paul Snelgrove said.

"If a driver's done 0-10 years they'll be better off under our agreement. If they've driven 10+ years they'll be better with NZ Bus.

"Long-serving drivers get first preference for callback or weekend shifts."

NZ Bus will still require 300 drivers to service its routes.

Tranzit said it's offering a flat rate of pay, but after midnight will pay $32 per hour and other allowances. It already has 200 drivers ready to go and will need another 50 to 60.

"The reality is, every driver who's signed up gets 80 hours per [fortnightly] pay period," he said.

"The only ones on zero-hours are those who want to drive casual."

Tranzit is due to start operations in the Hutt Valley in June, and services in Wellington in July.

Unions have threatened to picket bus depots when the new contracts come into force.