Auckland bus passengers are assured of 2 years of industrial peace after drivers agreed yesterday to end a long and bitter pay dispute.
About 600 NZ Bus drivers and cleaners voted by an 80 per cent majority to accept a company offer amounting to a 20c hourly pay rise in three instalments. That will lift the top hourly rate for drivers with at least nine months service to $17.45 now, $18.15 next year and $18.75 in February 2012.
The deal includes a minimum of $560 in backpay dated from July 5 and a $500 contribution from the Auckland Regional Transport Authority to wages lost when NZ Bus locked out 875 workers and suspended all its services for seven days last month.
Although the pay rises are the same as offered in a package rejected by 55 per cent of drivers at a rowdy and emotional meeting three weeks ago, union negotiators welcoming a softening of "clawbacks" sought by Infratil subsidiary, which provides 70 per cent of Auckland bus services.
Auckland Tramways Union president Gary Froggatt said the company dropped its demand to be able to review the jobs of drivers absent because of incapacity for more than two months, and had reverted to an existing three-month threshold. It also agreed to add just 24 hours to an existing 48-hour time limit for submitting complaints to drivers, which was half of what it sought earlier.
The deal retains a new weight limit of 115kg for driver recruits but the unions say that is outside their control as a pre-employment requirement, even though Auckland University of Technology nutrition and obesity expert Professor Elaine Rush believes it will discriminate against Polynesians, with higher average weights than other ethnic groups.
Drivers spoken to outside a Tramways Union meeting at Alexandra Park were generally pleased to have settled up before Christmas, given the added financial strain the festive season puts on families, but one said he believed they should have held out for more money. He believed the length of an agreement locking drivers into what he still considered to be low wages would make the company an attractive sale proposition.
Mr Froggatt acknowledged a general suspicion that Infratil may be grooming NZ Bus for sale, but said that gave the drivers no great concern as they had lost confidence in the company. He said that although hourly pay rates were now higher than that of other Auckland bus company, NZ Bus drivers received just time and a quarter for overtime hours and were determined to fight for time and a half after the new agreement expired.
Company operations general manager Zane Fulljames said NZ Bus was confident it had secured an agreement that would meet the needs "of our customers, our people and the business" and looked forward to rebuilding long-term relations with the four bus unions is it reshaped its operation. "This agreement allows us the stability and certainty to move forward with confidence into the Rugby World Cup 2011 and beyond," he said.
Regional transport authority chief executive Fergus Gammie also welcomed the return of stability for bus passengers.