Bus drivers up against bosses, iwi, council and government

by Daphna Whitmore

Today, iwi-owned company Go Bus locked out close to 100 bus drivers in Hamilton. The drivers have been in negotiations since March 2017 and want a living wage of $20.55 an hour. Many of the drivers are paid less than $18 an hour, some as low as $17.30, and are struggling. They have rejected a 1.9% pay increase offered by the company.

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First Union members block buses leaving the depot

The drivers belong to First Union and announced a partial strike to start 19 November. It was to be a fare strike with free rides for passengers on Go Bus in Hamilton, Te Awamutu, Otorohanga and Katikati. The company have responded aggressively by locking out the union members hoping to force submission.This is the biggest lockout of First Union members since 2006 when 500 employees were locked out by the supermarket giant Progressive Enterprises.

Go Bus is owned by Tainui and Ngai Tahu iwi, and despite giving lip service to supporting a living wage their companies are hard-nosed profit-driven entities. Ngai Tahu is the wealthiest iwi and the largest corporate land-owner in the South Island. In 2017 their net worth increased by $89m to $1.36b.The second in wealth of the iwi is Waikato-Tainui which has assets of $1.22b. The lockout shows that today’s iwi are capitalist enterprises and bear little resemblance to the iwi of classical Maori society before colonisation.

The workers have to fight a battle on several fronts as they not only have a bully-boy employer, but also city councils across New Zealand use a competitive contracting model which awards contracts to the worst, lowest paying bus companies. Nor can the bus drivers expect the Labour-led government will be backing their cause. They are committed to allowing employers to use the weapon of lockouts and are planning to just tinker a bit with employment law. During the Progressive lockout in 2006 Andrew Little was leader of one of the unions involved. He challenged all members of parliament to match a $200 donation made by one MP Steve Maharey. None did. This time around will Andrew Little be supporting the locked out workers or calling for an end to the right to lockout workers? It’ll be snowing in Jamaica before that happens.

The drivers put a hard picket on the bus depot in Hamilton this morning stopping buses leaving the depot for several hours. They can expect a battle ahead as they face employers, councils and a pro-business government.

The lockout is indefinite and the Council of Trade Unions is calling on people to give financial support. Donations can be made at busfair.nz.donate/.