Union asks court to rule Wellington bus lockout 'unlawful'

The union which represents Wellington bus drivers has filed an injunction to overturn their employer's lockout, saying it's "morally inappropriate" and "unlawful".

NZ Bus, owned by Australian private equity firm Next Capital, has been in a pay dispute with its drivers. The drivers announced a strike for Friday, prompting NZ Bus to start a lockout.

"We thought long and hard about this and regret that we've had to take this step, but we have no option," NZ Bus said in a statement, claiming Tramways Union members had been offered "significant pay increases" and "the best pay and conditions in the industry". 

While the offer would have increased drivers' pay to $23.75 an hour, above the so-called living wage, drivers would also have lost several benefits - such as annual leave and penalty rates for night and weekend shifts.

NZ Bus hasn't said how long the lockout will last. 

"The action that the company has taken against their own staff - lock them out indefinitely - is designed to starve them into submission and accept an inferior employment agreement," Council of Trade Unions secretary Richard Wagstaff told Newshub.

"We believe the action is not only morally inappropriate, it's actually unlawful as well."

He said NZ Bus was offered additional funding from Wellington Regional Council to pay its drivers better, "but instead of just accepting that... NZ Bus, owned by Next Capital, instead said, 'No we don't want the money from the council - we want to strip the conditions of the workers so that our company's worth more money because it can make more profit.'

"That's completely unacceptable... They're obviously quite ruthless when it comes to looking after themselves without regard for anybody else - including their own staff."

A hearing in the Employment Court is set down for 10:30am on Saturday. 

Transport Minister Michael Wood has urged NZ Bus to back down.

"My strong urging to NZ Bus is to withdraw its indefinite lockout notice, and for both parties to return to the bargaining table and negotiate to reach a reasonable and equitable agreement," Wood said.

"I am closely monitoring developments and expect constructive, good faith behaviour from all sides."

NZ Bus has blamed the drivers for the lockout.

"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."

Mediated bargaining is scheduled for the week after next, Wood said.