Time to step up the pressure - Auckland needs fair pay for bus drivers
The past week has shown just how crucial our bus service is for the people of Auckland. For a week, NZ Bus not only locked out the drivers who had done no more than vote to follow the company's own safety rules, but also the 80,000 people who rely on buses to get to work and school. The bosses showed exactly how little they care about our community when they rejected the drivers' offer to take the school run for free on the first day back at school. NZ Bus is happy to take the subsidies paid for from Aucklanders' pockets, but they don't care what kind of service we get for our money.
There has been huge support for the bus drivers from the travelling public. The drivers' campaign has highlighted the low pay and terrible working conditions that bus drivers face every day. From the start it has been clear that the company is only interested in squeezing as much profit as it can from both passengers and bus drivers. It's a victory that NZ Bus has been forced to call off the lockout, but we should also be clear that mediation may not resolve all of the outstanding claims that are crucial for bus drivers. Pressure from drivers has forced NZ Bus back to the negotiating table, but the drivers were right to reject the paltry offers that have been made by NZ Bus so far. The rejection of the latest offer by 95% of union members shows that there is still a mood to fight. Trade union members from all unions and bus riders need to be ready to support the drivers in their campaign to force NZ Bus to meet demands for a living wage, realistic timetables, and payment of overtime rates. But we should go further and demand that our public transport system is run for the people of the city, not for corporate profit.
The chaos caused when the buses don't run shows exactly how important the bus drivers are to our city. Infratil, the company that owns NZ buses is clear about its goal: "Infratil’s primary goal is to provide its shareholders with a consistent return of 20% per annum over the long term." We should be clear about ours. It's time for bus drivers and bus riders to organise to demand affordable public transport under public control.