On the Picket Line

Bus drivers in New Zealand fight for higher wages

By Terry Coggan
December 23, 2019

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — In the week beginning Dec. 2, around half of all bus trips in Auckland became free to the public. More than 900 drivers employed by two of the city’s bus companies — NZ Bus and Go Bus — stopped collecting passenger fares as part of their ongoing campaign to win new contracts, higher wages and improved conditions.

Many drivers, members of New Zealand Tramways Union and FIRST Union, said the reception from riders was positive, with many saying “good luck,” as well as offering money and food. It’s the first time the unions have tried this tactic.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” Paul Albert, a driver and assistant Tramways Union delegate at Onehunga depot, told the Militant.

NZ Bus reacted Dec. 7 by issuing suspension notices to drivers as they turned up for work, locking them out. In response, drivers went to the union office and organized picketing at the gates of other bus companies that were still operating. On Dec. 9, 200 drivers staged a spirited rally outside the offices of Auckland Transport, a City Council organization that contracts all bus companies. They then marched through the central city.

NZ Bus drivers had voted overwhelmingly Nov. 28 to reject the company’s offer to raise wages by 38 cents an hour. Their unions are demanding an 8 New Zealand dollar an hour raise ($5.28). After the lockout notices, the company increased their offer to 44 cents an hour and a one-off payment of NZ$500.

Long hours is another major issue for drivers. It is not uncommon for drivers scheduled on split shifts to spend 14 hours a day at work.

Terry Coggan is a member Tramways Union at NZ Bus Onehunga.