Wellington commuters facing disruption as bus drivers strike

Wellington commuters face major disruption this morning with bus drivers walking off the job for 24 hours.

Tramways Union members voted last week to strike after a breakdown in pay negotiations with NZ Bus. About 100 drivers went on strike from 4am.

Tensions went up a notch on Thursday, however, when the company told drivers they would be locked out until they signed up to a collective agreement. The bus firm is owned by Australian company Next Capital.

Tramways Union Wellington secretary Kevin O'Sullivan said while that notice was a shock, the action did not take them totally by surprise.

"Because it's really just the result of 12 months of bad management, really dreadful performance and the whole industry is in a mess to be honest... it has to be sorted out."

Wellington commuters facing disruption as bus drivers strike
Photo credit: RNZ / Dom Thomas.

The Regional Council (GWRC) and the government needed to step in, O'Sullivan said.

"The ball is in their court, yes."

Unless that happened it was unclear how long the disruption could do on for, he said.

NZ Bus chief operating officer Jay Zmijewski said on Thursday the company had been left with no option but to issue a lockout notice due to the disruption of strike action and the threat of further "surprise attack strikes" by the union.

Wellington commuters facing disruption as bus drivers strike
Photo credit: RNZ / Emma Hatton.

The current offer of pay and conditions above the living wage were the best in the country, but the union had refused to budge after eight months of negotiations, Zmijewski said.

About 30 picketers were outside the Kilbirnie bus depot in Wellington this morning.

The NZ Bus routes affected are: 2, 3 ,21, 22, 12, 12e, 13, 14, 18e, 20, 28, 30x, 31x, 33, 34, 34, 36,37,81, 83, 84, 85x, N2, N3, N8, and N88.

Metlink services run by other operators, including route 1, are scheduled to run as normal.

Metlink expressed disappointment with the decision to deny drivers work unless they accepted the terms of NZ Bus' offer.

General manager Scott Gallacher said he was surprised and concerned by the action. "We are very concerned about the real impact this will have on thousands of passengers who will be left without services."

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff called the company's lockout decision a direct attack on bus drivers in an attempt to cut pay and conditions of employment.

Such tactics by a corporate had no place in New Zealand society, he said.