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July 24, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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GWRC Did Undercut Unionised Bus Staff

New contracts awarded for the bus operations in the Greater Wellington Region have been criticised for cutting drivers’ pay and working conditions. Drivers are refusing to sign onto new employment contracts until these issues are resolved.

Following a competitive tender for bus services, the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) selected Tranzit Group for eight contracts in the Wellington region, and Uzabus for the bus contract in Kapiti. This will replace the services currently run by Metlink, from 2018.

GWRC Chairperson Chris Laidlaw said the decision “is great news for Wellingtonians with significant benefits for ratepayers, taxpayers, and bus users.” However, bus drivers are facing considerable negative changes to their employment contracts.

Laidlaw said Tranzit had given Councillors a commitment to employ as many bus drivers as possible from the region’s existing workforce under new contracts. However, the proposed new contracts would see two major changes to driver employment conditions — the casualisation of employee contracts, and a flat rate of pay in place of the current pay system, which provides a penal rate with increased pay in weekends and evenings.

“You’re reducing job and income security, plain and simple,” said the President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Richard Wagstaff. He told Salient that making employee contracts more casual increased drivers’ vulnerability to their employer, providing employers a greater ability to punitively reduce hours for a driver who engages in an employment dispute.

Furthermore, bus drivers currently receive time and a half for Saturday work, and double time for Sunday work. The flat rate of pay under the new contracts would reduce the weekly income of the average driver in Wellington by about $200.

Tramways Union Secretary, Kevin O’Sullivan, told Salient “A lot of people think we are asking for a wage increase — but in reality what we’re asking for is just to keep what we’ve got.”

Wagstaff said that, through discussions with union representatives, bus drivers had decided to try and negotiate the proposed terms of the new employment contracts.

“They don’t want to apply for new jobs until a collective agreement is reached.”

O’Sullivan warned that there was a real potential for disruption of bus services if the existing workforce did not apply for jobs under the new contracts, in the absence of a collective agreement being reached. “There won’t be enough drivers under the new contracts. It’s highly undesirable, but possible.”

Wellington bus driver, Wendy Parsons, was frustrated by the process. “It’s really unfair that every time the Council tenders out the contracts for the bus services, we get a wage cut — what other job do you get a wage cut in every few years, courtesy of the government?”

Parsons, who is currently staying with a friend due to difficulties securing accommodation in Wellington, said the pay cuts would “make a huge difference” to her standard of living.

“It’s really hard to find a place to live in Wellington that you can afford, near work, on your current wages — so getting even less, that’s a struggle. And I don’t even have kids, like a lot of our drivers do, who work a lot of overtime just to try and look after their families. It’s not like we’re getting huge wages as it is, let alone after a wage cut.”

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