Bus services in Wellington and the Hutt Valley will be "severely affected" on Wednesday when bus drivers will hold a stopwork meeting to discuss the effects of phasing out trolley buses.
The 500 drivers employed by Go Wellington and Valley Flyer fear their wages and conditions could be eroded if rival bus companies tender for services once the trolley wires come down in 2017.
Their management agrees, with NZ Bus chief executive officer Zane Fulljames, who oversees the operation of the city's 60 trolley buses, saying: "We simply will not be able to compete unless we take a good hard look at our existing terms and conditions and . . . in fact wind these [conditions] back."
Manufacturing and Construction Workers Union secretary Graeme Clarke, who represents workshop crews servicing the buses, conceded it was an unusual situation for the union to find itself publicly in agreement with Fulljames and NZ Bus.
"On this matter we're quite happy to dance with the devil. It will just be a question of who leads," Clarke said.
Tramways Union Wellington secretary Kevin O'Sullivan said the Greater Wellington Regional Council's proposal to scrap trolley buses in 2017 would lead to industrial strife on the buses.
"Behind the proposal to scrap trollies is a wish to open up Wellington's bus routes to competition. At present nearly all work is performed by Go Wellington, a subsidiary of NZ Bus, because the trolley system prevents this [competitive tendering] from happening."
The next collective agreement for Go Wellington and Valley Flyer drivers was scheduled for negotiation in January 2016. "The potential for industrial action in these agreement negotiations is high," O'Sullivan said.
Fulljames said: "We have a competitive landscape that is coming down the pipeline. I am very supportive of that. I think that is a positive thing for Wellingtonians and my business.
"There has not been a contracting round for quite some time, and I think people might be a little bit surprised about the outcomes."
The regional council's draft transport plan, which includes the abolition of the trollies, will go to a full council meeting on June 26 for adoption.
It includes faster and more frequent train services, and integrated fares, where people use one card for all public transport.
Global transport giant Transdev is lining up to be among the tenderers wanting to take over Wellington's passenger rail train and bus networks.
The Tramways Union stopwork meeting is scheduled to be held from 10.30am to 1pm on Wednesday.
Council public transport portfolio leader Paul Swain said the action would "severely affect" bus services in Wellington and the Hutt Valley.
He said the current trolley bus contract finishes in 2017. "Under the Government's new transport law, we need to go out for new tenders for some services, while others will be directly negotiated with the incumbents.
"We are taking advantage of the new contracts to design a more efficient and reliable network for Wellington.
"We want to give more people greater access to high frequency bus services, reduce bus congestion through the CBD and make it easier to get around on buses via a simpler network.
"The unions will negotiate wages and conditions of drivers with the operators as they do now, regardless of whether they are incumbent or new operators."
- The Dominion Post
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