Unions, NZ Bus and Howick and Eastern Buses continue war of words ahead of strike

Most of Auckland's bus drivers will walk off the job on Friday for a 24 hour strike.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Most of Auckland's bus drivers will walk off the job on Friday for a 24 hour strike.

Auckland bus drivers are resigning ahead of major industrial action on Friday.

About 1000 bus drivers from NZ Bus and 100 drivers from Howick and Eastern Buses will walk off the job for 24 hours on Friday as negotiations between unions and the bus companies break down.

During the strike about 70 per cent of Auckland Transport's bus network will grind to a halt affecting nearly 100,000 commuters and putting extra strain on Auckland's roads as people opt for car transport instead.

First Union organiser Rudd Hughes said Howick and Eastern Buses, which is owned by Scottish billionaire Sir Brian Souter, was refusing to bargain unless drivers accepted pay cuts.

"All the drivers are asking for is to maintain their conditions and not have their earnings cut," Hughes said.

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He said more than 100 of Howick and Eastern's 220 drivers were striking.

However, Howick and Eastern general manager Sheryll Otway said the figure was closer to 70 because there had been "quite a few resignations".

She said she had stopped counting how many resignations the company had received.

Hughes estimated it was about 10.

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Howick and Eastern was still bargaining with the union, and claims that it was refusing to bargain unless drivers took pay cuts was "totally incorrect", Otway said.

The company was looking at introducing a flat overtime rate, but Otway would not go into further detail about what that meant.

Hughes said Howick and Eastern's proposal of a flat rate would remove any penal rates that drivers received.

"It means it's quite a lot less money for those drivers if they accept it," Hughes said.

NZ Bus northern chief operating officer Shane McMahon said it was disappointing its drivers had elected to strike.

"NZ Bus drivers enjoy the best terms and conditions in the industry, with drivers paid $20.40 an hour, plus overtime rates of time and a quarter and time and a half," he said.

NZ Bus was offering another 35 cents an hour increase but the unions were not accepting that.

Hughes said NZ Bus was refusing to return to the negotiation table until February 29.

This was far too long for union members as bargaining began in November, he said.

Drivers had raised issues regarding rosters and concerns over four hour break times for split shifts.

"The company claims that NZ Bus drivers have the best conditions in New Zealand but this is not true," Hughes said.

None of the other major bus companies had four hour breaks between split shifts, he said.

"These conditions are hard on drivers who undertake much of their work in peak traffic and result in stress and fatigue."

Drivers were often at work for 12 hours a day but only received eight hours pay, Hughes said.

Drivers also want input into the way rosters are created.

NZ Bus said the break period between shifts was a work rule set by the NZ Transport Agency.

 - Stuff

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