On the Q+A with Corin Dann the other day Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked questions regarding Industrial Relations Reform which included a discussion on fair pay for bus drivers

CORIN What about industrial relations reform? Will there be reform that brings in, effectively, a modern version of national awards? So some industries, there is a minimum wage set, say, bus drivers.

JACINDA And that’s a good example. Let’s draw on that example. At the moment we see contracts coming up across councils for those who offer services for our bus drivers. So one of the ways that those who are pitching for those contracts, offering council a lower bill, is by driving down the conditions that those bus drivers have. That’s not a pathway to prosperity for New Zealand or for the workers.

CORIN So you’ll legislate on that?

JACINDA That’s an example of where, in our view, things like fair pay agreements, which we intend to have a handful of any given year across an industry could have a positive benefit.

CORIN This is very important, though, because the business community is quite worried about this.

JACINDA And we have assured them that they have no need to be.


JACINDA Because in an area like that where we’re talking about with bus drivers, I think that there would be agreement that continually driving down people’s wages and conditions in order to win those contracts actually does not serve our purposes.

CORIN But are you saying it’ll only be one or two industries a year?

JACINDA Yes, we have at least set ourselves the goal of one or two a year. We already have an example of a form of fair pay agreement in the home-care workers.

CORIN But this is different. This is like going back. This is an award system, isn’t it, effectively?

JACINDA No, it’s not different, actually. What we achieved for the home-care workers was essentially exactly the same as what we’ve

CORIN But that took a court case.

JACINDA Well, it’s avoiding the court case. Of course, that was a prohibitive process to go through. We’re talking about a process that’s collaborative, works with employers and employees to drive consensus.

CORIN Would you need to legislate for that?

JACINDA We will create a process, but, for instance, where there has been most concern from the business community has, for instance, been around whether or not you could take strike action as part of those negotiations. We are absolutely ruling that out as part of the process.

CORIN Are you worried you’ll get some sort of winter of discontent that Helen Clark faced when she came in 1999 from business?

JACINDA No. No, no, I’m not. I intend to work in partnership. In fact, I had contact with Business New Zealand over the issue of fair-pay agreements during the campaign, and we’ll continue to engage with them. Ours will be a government of partnership. If we want to deliver the gains for New Zealanders that we intend to, we’ll have to deliver them alongside the business community as well. That’s the kind of government I wish to lead.

This was an interesting point made by the Prime Minister as one of the major criticisms of the Public Transport Operating Model process  also known as PTOM by unions and workers especially in Auckland is has the New Network contracting been used as a means to drive down bus drivers wages and conditions as bus companies engage in a race to the bottom to win contracts.

Bus drivers have not been the only ones raising this issue in Auckland. The Train Managers/Ticket Inspectors who will now be replaced over time as part of the SaFE programme by roving Warranted Transport Officers who have new powers under the new act, increased station staff and more ticket gates. Some Train Managers have mentioned to me that the roles that can be transitioned into Station Staff or Transport Officers will have much lower wages than they do currently if that is true is a little concerning.

While lowering OPEX is a good thing as it means we can run more services and we should always look to run a system as efficiently as possible it may be counterintuitive to engage in trying to drive down wages like this. The reason other than of course the obvious ethical concerns is that transit around the world is in a renaissance. Drivers are in high demand and many places will pay top wages to meet the need. Places such as Victoria and Queensland, for example, have massive shortages of drivers and are willing to pay very good wages, with better leave, as well as overtime. If you are a driver here taking up a high paying job with better conditions in a city with much more affordable housing like Brisbane will be very attractive. Having a shortage of drivers will be terrible long run for the future Auckland’s PT network. We will have made all these savings all to not be able to actually run any more services.

A look at PTOM was also signalled by Phil Twyford. However, PTOM while it has a few issues the root of the problem mainly lies elsewhere one of the things the Government should consider if this is a major concern for them is taking a look at the 50% Farebox Ratio Target that was set by the NZTA under Joyce’s ideological thinking. Serious questions have been raised regarding the appropriateness of this target and its effect on PT especially as it makes entities like AT risk adverse to major changes which could lead to long run better growth and farebox. On the other side, a broader conversation may need to be had about the current Funding Assistance Rates and whether the levels are delivering the best outcomes.

Of course many will argue what if operators simply pocket the extra funding. The solution to this might be best addressed through employment law changes changing the law to list public transport drivers as vulnerable workers. This will give them the right to choose to be transferred to the new employer, on the same terms and conditions of employment with continuity of service, including their leave and other entitlements.

I think this is one of those issues that doesn’t need to be either or, we can treat transport workers fairly and still have fully funded services.

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  1. Every bus company in Auckland is short of drivers – turnover is very high and morale is low. Why…… AT has seemed to delight in the fact that wages and conditions are being driven lower (to save the rate payer).
    All those drivers are rate payers too and you don’t see the AT employees taking a cut to help other rate payers in Auckland do you – AT’s attitude to bus companies is hurting the most vulnerable of those companies – the actual workers at the bottom of the hierarchy.
    The other effect of this is that already bus companies are cutting trips, or shortening trips due to lack of bus drivers, so yes, it has already come to pass and only 2 areas of Auckland are working under PTOM – imagine when the whole network has changed.
    How efficient was this system of tendering really??
    Wages and conditions should also to be transferred if everything else has been.

  2. Roll on electric, autonomous, trams and trains.

    Personally, I would like to see the back of diesel-belching buses and the load move to the above trams/trains, and smaller, electric buses. These already run in many European cities (such as Copenhagen).

    1. NZ Bus offered to run electric buses on 2 of the recently tendered West Auckland units but Auckland Transport turned them down – why?

  3. Oh great, let’s give more power to the unions.
    That’ll work out well until you go on your Christmas holidays and find the rail ferries affected by strike action.
    No thanks.

    1. “let’s give more power to the unions.”
      Absolutely Vance I’m right with you there. NZ employers have been ripping off workers for far too long.

      1. It’s very simple. If you don’t like what you’re getting paid, get another job.

        In the meantime, I’m off to Bunnings to do some shopping.

        Hopefully I won’t have to run the gauntlet of some union thugs intimidating and assaulting people going about their lawful business.

        1. “Get another job” – Yeah, sure… I’ll just go from being taken advantage of in this low paying job to being taken advantage of in this other low paying job. That’s what is at stake here.

          What about if your role is specialised? With only a few potential employers, suggesting that somebody work elsewhere isn’t a practical answer.

          Union thugs assaulting people – Man… This is 2017, not 1977…

        2. Are you simply going to Bunnings to get another job?

          One of those simple jobs that are on a shelf?


          And if we have your simple view on life we won’t have bus drivers, simple!

    2. Excuse me…I am grateful for the unions, they got me out of a sticky situation twice. Bus drivers deserve better, I get paid much more for my job and have it easier than they do.

      1. I agree.

        I’m a strong negotiator, had HR at my last job nervous (knowledge + experience = advantage employee) and love a good fight but even I needed help from the union once. My union rep told me straight away at our first meeting that they’re only interested in a level playing field, not taking advantage. That was before even hearing why I wanted help.

        The days on unions taking the mickey has long since past.

        1. There are people people that are stuck in the past and not even realise it…So many things have changed, yet they base their experience on something that has happened 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

    3. Unions represent the distillation of relationships down to effectively two entities, the employer and the employees. Like all relationships, this could be healthy or unhealthy.

      Taking your example, the overwhelming majority of KiwiRail’s employees are members of the RMTU (one of the more powerful unions). I don’t see widespread strike action as you suggest would be the case.

      Unions serve to assist those who aren’t able to stand against unfair conditions on their own.

      Are you also against collective bargaining?

  4. I would much rather tax dollars went directly to bus drivers (and other low wage workers) than the weird loop that sees people on unliveable incomes, and shareholder returns for the company that employs them effectively subsidised by Working for Families topping up that unliveable income.

  5. Lowly paid bus drivers in Auckland and the current industrial dispute in the capital between transdev and their employees suggests to me the current employment laws are not working very well with regard to public transport.

    1. Don’t forget the dispute in Hamilton where Go Bus Hamilton pays a base rate of $17.50 p/hr and Pavloich Coachlines pays a higher base rate than Go Bus both of which has been award new bus service contracts for Hamilton suburbs and greater Hamilton region or the wages and conditions fiasco in Wellington where Tranzit has taken 60% over of routes from NZ Bus. Tranzit is paying lower wages compared to NZ Bus but Tranzit doesn’t have the necessary drivers to maintain the services they are getting and want to employ ex NZ Bus drivers but are not prepared to to honour their benefits and working conditions. Wellington Tramways Union, Etu and First Union want Tranzit to honour NZ Bus existing wage, benefits and conditions, if Tranzit wants to use ex NZ Bus drivers.

      1. Tranzit have said they will pay $22 per hour in Wellington. This is more than the living wage $20.20 and more the the rates NZBus currently offer $18.65 – $19.35 per hour. Only the penal rates that NZBus drivers get mean wages will go down for the fortunate drivers that have the most lucrative shifts. But they will would still be getting above living wage.

        1. The rate is for ex NZ Bus drivers only not for new drivers the Tranzit employs directly. Unless Tranzit has back down, they weren’t as of end of October 2017, going to honour the current NZ Bus working conditions and benefits only the hour rate.

          Tranzit needs NZ Bus drivers due to their experience and route knowledge.

        2. Transit have not confirmed in writing the offer of $22.00 per hour. Transit full time shifts are over 14 hours for 8 hours pay. All their other shifts are casual, part time and school bus. They are in for a rude awakening when they try and operate PTOM contracts.

  6. I would rather see driverless buses and trains asap than worrying about a sunset job. Of course drivers need proper wages but we could be a world leader and go completely driverless within 5 years, if we want to. The plan should be about helping the drivers onto new jobs rather than protecting their current ones.

    1. Wishful thinking. Driverless buses and trains at least 10-20 years away or may be longer. NZ roads are not up scratch for driverless vehicles and the NZ rail network needs a massive investment in infrastructure and change in business management culture before the idea of driverless trains is looked at. Remember passenger and freight trains share the same track. Current international driverless passenger trains systems have their on dedicate track networks.

      1. I think it is wishful thinking because we don’t want to do it but is isn’t a technological issue. The technology is there already. In regards to the current rail technology we don’t need to replicate that. I am talking about technology like Tesla’s autopilot. That’s a very different thing that the effectively “horizontal lifts” in current use. Maybe NZ’s roads aren’t up to autopilot tech everywhere but I am only referring to where buses in Auckland go – mostly the main roads. We can roll that out now starting with the LR down Dominion Rd.

        1. But there are still technical issues with Tesla’s autopilot. Its still not available to Telsa drivers. Telsa is looking at the release of it some time in late 2018 or 2019.

          The problem is the buses still share the roads with cars are driven by humans. Driverless buses would work in Auckland if buses had there own dedicated carriage ways like the northern busway but not going down Dominion Rd.

        2. The autopilot is not available because it is an optional extra but 2018/19 is 1 to 2 years not more than the 5 I suggest. Autopilot plus other competitors are designed with mixed roads so I don’t see the need for dedicated lanes – although that is good for other reasons.

      2. I have to agree in part. Driverless cars are mostly ready now, except that they’re easy to troll. This is where culture and legislation comes into play. As for the infrastructure side, I’m not convinced that for AVs there is much required.

        For trains, whilst I disagree that we need separate tracks, I definitely agree that we need to upgrade the infrastructure first. We’d need to protect the rail corridor better, with all crossings being grade separated and having platform edge doors. This is aimed at making it harder for people and animals to be where they shouldn’t. Avoiding trains and work teams isn’t hard with ETCS.

        As for management culture… Hmmm. Do we really want to fire all our train drivers? I know that eventually we need to, but do we care about providing alternative roles or training for re-entry into the labour market?

        1. That is why driverless trains have dedicated track network, mainly undergrounds, so unwanted objects like humans, cars, animals, etc are not in the way.

          Despite all of the hype mainly from Silicon Valley, I am still no convinced at that NZ’s national road network is up to the standreded for driverless vehicles. Has any Tesla owners done a Auckland to Wellington hands free drive all the way?

        2. Agree, we allow quite a bit of scope for driver error on our roads at the moment. I can’t see us allowing a driverless car to proceed past a farm driveway at full speed with a quadbike approaching under the assumption that it will stop.

          I imagine driverless cars will be programmed to eliminate all risk, which will mean slowing down to a crawl every blind corner and every time a potential hazard is in view. In an urban area this is almost all the time.

    2. I would rather see driver-less cars first – that way the person driving the bus can just cut off / pull in front of cars everywhere – and the self-driving cars will avoid/slow down for the bus. Every lane will be like bus lane!!!

      Rather than self driving buses were people driving cars do not give way and pull in front of buses.

      1. While car is king the bus drivers would be in the dunny for cutting cars off. I’d prefer for us to just say no thanks to AV technology. I haven’t seen a good reason for it yet, and lots of reasons against.

  7. The living wage is currently $20.20 per hour. Tranzit are undertaking to pay $22 per hour. Sounds reasonable to me.

    NZBus apparently pays $18.65 – $19.35 with penal rates on top. So the old boys with the pick of the best shifts do well and others get below living wage. Tranzit look like giving a fairer system. I mean what other businesses still work on penal rates in 2017?

    1. Can one buy a house in Auckland or Wellington on $22/h? Or is that a privilege you dont think bus drivers should have?

      1. Key is privilege. Property ownership is not a right. Having a roof over your head should be a human right (memory tells me that it is already defined as such), but residential property ownership is like vehicle ownership – A privilege not a right.

        On a household income of $100-150k buying a house isn’t easy… That’s an effective hourly of over $48/hr. I not suggesting that you think we should pay our drivers that much, just trying to make a point.

        1. Thing is, renting is still merely a glorified form of couch surfing over here. What’s the average time between evictions these days? The last I heard it was 15 months. So if you want to call a place home, you have to buy it.

  8. From what I gather from my limited perspective is that far too many workers and even good workers just seem to accept individual contact conditions and don’t really bargain or question conditions etc out of fear loosing jobs or thinking they just have to accept them due to unemployment. I think workers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a bit more /better conditions, they maybe surprised and should have more self respect. In any case I think some sort of national collective agreement would work for bus drivers, seems Labour are trying to set this in the right direction. Don’t think we should throw out the PTOM, just needs some tweaking. There is efficiencies to be gained from mangement/IT systems etc under market conditions that would be lost returning to some centrally run system like in the past.

  9. I saw a twitter feed from AT recently that the train managers weren’t being removed. Anyone know the actual story?

  10. well if so meany people want use cars and not take public transport and whey should they get fair pay if they have empty public transport i do see lots of busses have no one using them so they run empty so if pepole use more public transport then the staff would get better pay out of it and electric alone wont get no where because i know and not keep on recharging them all the time and dont have to relies on battery power so has back up power no one has these trains or what they going to do

  11. Interesting post, because I recall Greater Auckland acting with glee at the cost savings the New Network is delivering, when myself and others warned you it was at the direct expense of the drivers, mechanics, cleaners and back office staff. I was always aghast at Greater Auckland’s attitude with no concerns about the employees.

    Great to see you’ve changed your tune Greater Auckland. That is positive.

    1. Although a bit late for some contracts all the bus workers are asking for is a clause in PTOM contracts stating that if a new company is taking over a contract they shall offer exising employees the same conditions of employment for say a period of 12 months.
      Competing for public transport contracts should be on quality of service, standard of buses, timtable reliability, safety and driver professionalism. Not employee wages.

  12. Course drivers wages, benefits and working conditions are being driven down with bus service contracts. Other than ongoing fleet purchase/replacement and maintenance, drivers wages, benefits and working conditions is a bus operator’s large cost, so get a contract, an operator has to submit the cheapest price, hence all problems that the travelling public experience regardless which city they live in, like service disruptions, bus breakdowns, etc is a result cheap contracts.

    I do agree that there should be a national fair wage agreement for all bus drivers and that PTOM model should take into account driver wages and and service reliability.

  13. It is not just bus drivers facing pay cuts, within the Auckland metro rail operation there is a lot of discontent and anger brewing among Transdev train staff over Transdev and AT’s SAFE project (the RMTU are calling it ‘Un-SAFE’) with RMTU union member Transdev employed Train Managers and Ticket Inspectors facing their jobs being abolished to be replaced with non-union member AT employed Transport Officers. The Transport Officers will be paid less than the existing staff with inferior conditions.

    AT and Transdev have already done similar with their manned station Ticket Office staff with all the original AT and Transdev employed staff roles recently being abolished and a “new role” created which does all the functions of the two previous roles performed by the respective companies. The new role has twice as much duties with being two roles rolled into one and gets paid less than the old Transdev employed role.

    The next plan of AT’s is to get Transdev to abolish all the existing Train Manager and Ticket Inspector roles, and have Driver Only Operation on the trains with just random pairs of Transport Officers roving randomly on some trains and stations. The existing Transdev Train Managers and Ticket Inspectors do not get to automatically transfer to the new Transport Officer role, they have to apply with everyone else. And if the experience with what happened when the Transdev Ticket Office staff is anything to go by where very few Transdev staff were taken on by AT, the future does not look promising for Transdev Train Managers and Ticket Inspectors.

    The RMTU and its rail staff members nationwide have spoken out in opposition to AT and Transdev’s SAFE project plans for Driver Only Operation which will not be safe. The Auckland rail system is not suitable or safe for Driver Only Operation with being a mostly open insecure network, where fare evasion and associated crime is rife since AT launched the seriously flawed honesty based AT HOP ticket system.

    AT’s claims about Transport Officers being the great solution to fixing all the problems they created since they launched the HOP card system, which were nowhere as much of an issue as what they are now, will not work. The mere 230 Transport Officers will be in pairs and will not just be on trains, but spread across Auckland’s bus and ferry network as well, meaning very thin coverage.

    The Transport Officers will also have no realistic means of enforcing fines on offenders as unlike cars which have registration plates, people in New Zealand do not have to carry ID and with the Transport Officers not being Police Officers with the powers of arrest, they will be reliant on offenders providing their (real) name and address. This is of course is highly unlikely in reality and these Transport Officers will more likely be subjected to being assaulted.

    The real primary objective behind AT’s SAFE project is to cut staff costs and conditions, and to remove union influence – AT don’t like being told what to do by anyone as Mayor Phil Goff recently found, despite AT being the biggest recipients of Auckland ratepayer funding but having no accountability to the public or elected representatives.

    The RMTU have already had a number of public protests and run a public petition, and this matter is likely to further escalate unless AT and Transdev see the error of their ‘unsafe’ ways and drop their plans for removing Train Managers and introducing Driver Only Operation, which the majority of the travelling public do not want.

    It is standard safe practice and a requirement in New Zealand for a passenger train to have a Guard / Train Manager – and for good reason. Internationally most passenger trains in more countries and cities than not, have a Guard / Conductor / Train Manager on them. It is common sense that they are there.

      1. JeffT, Train Managers keep passengers safe by:

        1. Actually being on every train – the biggest deterrent to anti-social behaviour is actually having the presence of a official professional rail employee who has experience. The Train Manager’s primary focus is looking after passengers and is readily accessable to help passengers and can immediately attend to an issues which arise and/or call for help – something a Driver cannot do when their primary focus is on concentrating safely driving the train, watching the ETCS screen and signals, safely controlling the speed of the train, trying to safely brake the EMUs which wheelslip and slide considerably compared to the older diesel rolling stock, etc. More distractions to a Driver in a Driver Only environment will increase the likelihood of SPADs or other operational mistakes occuring.

        2. The Train Manager is responsible for closing the doors. Having an experienced human pair of eyes watching to make sure passengers are clear and it is safe to close the doors is far safer than a Driver relying on a small low CCTV screen on top of all the other things Drivers are already concentrating on, signals, ETCS, RT radio etc. The Train Manager can more quickly react to and resolve a situation such as someone getting caught in a door, a child separated from its caregiver being left inside / outside a train when the doors close.

        3. The Train Manager is first aid certified and can more promptly attend to any passenger medical event or emergency.

        4. The Train Manager can help provide information and attend to passengers in a breakdown or emergency situation such a fire, derailment, and csn far more quickly help evacuate passengers in an emergency than a Driver on their own.

        5. In a points failure situation, having a crew of two ensures there is always a member of train staff inside the train with passengers while the other is out on the track hand winding points.

        1. I thought ETCS meant SPAD was basically impossible now?

          Also I’m not convinced TMs ‘help provide information’, from my observation they just muddy the waters, such as a couple of communications along the lines of ‘we are currently delayed due to the conditions in Britomart’. What is it snowing in there or something!?

          While you have listed a number of legitimate things TMs do, in reality most of the time they do nothing at all. At very least their roles need to be considerably expanded.

        2. Yes SPADs can still occur at low speeds with the basic level 1 ETCS the EMUs have installed in them, which basically only prevents high speed SPADs and overspeeding.

          With the communication from Train Managers the brief non detailed information is what Transdev instructs them to provide to passengers. Better training in public speaking could help some too.

          Fully agree the Train Managers should have their roles expanded and the Train Managers have even asked for this previously with wanting to check all tickets and HOP cards as part of their duties as this would go a long way towards effectively deterring fare evasion. AT said no and don’t want the Train Managers doing this. After a number of assaults on staff who had no ability to check tickets to put problem passengers off, the matter came to a head with two RMTU stop work meetings and Train Managers then got the right to check tickets if they wished – however Transdev management discourages Train Managers from doing this as they want the Train Managers to focus on On Time Performance, not fare evasion (and then people wonder why there is a fare evasion problem!).

        3. I’m not sure that train managers checking tickets is that effective as it is relatively easy to move around a train and avoid them if you want. The old system before hop cards had it’s share of fare evasion as well. It really needs a team that can close off all escapes as I’ve seen operating in Australian cities.

          I must say the TMs have become a much friendlier bunch with their jobs on the line, I’ll miss a number of them if they do go, which is not something I would have said a few years ago.

    1. Good to hear a bit of information as AT have been very quiet about the Transport Officer rollout.

      Personally I think it will be good to see the end of the two stage door closing process that is required with the TMs.

      Do you know how often TOs will be on buses and ferries? I would have thought every bus and ferry in Auckland requires passenger’s tickets to be checked before boarding so there wouldn’t me much need for TOs.

      Having TOs operating in pairs seems pointless, overseas they will generally be in larger packs to close off opportunities for people to avoid them.

      Also what ticket system do you think we should be using to reduce fare evasion? Cities around the world use systems similar to the HOP system and appear to be quite effective.

      1. The current door system with a Train Manager operating them is actually the most safest and quickest system with the door system AT specified for the EMUs. AT also wanted the individual opening doors which passengers pressed a button to open, which they were warned by the RMTU would be a slower system, and they now want the Drivers opening all the doors in the daytime at all stations because their original specified system was found to be too slow and increasing dwell times!

        The biggest hindrance to the speed of the door operation on the EMUs has nothing to do with what the Driver and Train Manager doing, it’s the computer software and detection system installed on the EMUs which is very slow, making the door operation and dwell times on EMUs slower than the system used on the SAs and DMUs.

        The HOP card ticketing system itself is fine, it is the way it was implemented and managed which is the issue, which the RMTU said would be an issue before it was rolled out – and sure enough all the problems did occur, big time. All the main stations should have been gated and manned from the launch date and the Train Managers should have been checking to make sure all passengers had a ticket or HOP card.

        1. I agree that there are a number of issues that cause the current slow dwell times, that will all have to be solved for the headways we have planned on the network in the future.

          However, a two stage door system is not viable long term on a metro system, I can’t think of any other that has one. Even Sydney and Brisbane, which have TMs, have the TM controlling the doors from a cab. This of course undermines any argument for having them patrol the trains and check tickets.

  14. I was on a train a while ago Robin, which was behind schedule. The TM maintained dwell times at less than 30 seconds instead of the current near one minute. It can be done. That is a main bug bear customers have. We want a faster service (and to be left in peace, if possible). It seems the TMs have no interest in addressing this which is why I would like to see driver only operation.

    Also at the end of the day it’s about the customers not protecting jobs. Those railway days ended in the eighties.

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