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Fair pay for bus drivers a hot topic in Wellington elections

Laura Dooney, Reporter

Candidates for Wellington's regional council agree bus drivers need to be given more pay, and better conditions.

A new double decker bus Photo: RNZ / Emma Hatton

The capital's bus revamped network is a hot election issue - more than a year after it was rolled out.

Part of the problem is a lack of bus drivers.

Green candidate Thomas Nash says he wants to push for a minimum standard across the region, and more pay, to attract more drivers to the job.

Mr says if he's elected, he'll work towards establishing regional contract standards that mean drivers are paid more and treated better.

He said this will help stem the shortage that's adding to pressure to the bus network, that's been troubled since it was implemented in July 2018.

"What I would really work for if elected is a set of region-wide minimum standards for bus driver contracts, and any bus company that wanted to get contracts from Greater Wellington Regional Council, Metlink, would need to sign up to these minimum standards."

Those minimum standards would include decent wages.

"If we want to have that good bus system and public transport system we need to value it. And I think that starts with valuing the drivers and I think our leaders, really, and the people managing the bus system, I think they've failed to adequately value drivers."

Candidate Bryce Pender, who is running on a platform of fixing the buses and public transport, agreed drivers deserve better wages.

"I am very much in favour of insuring the drivers are earning a minimum of the Living Wage when spread over 40 hours spread over five consecutive days."

Glenda Hughes, who is running for the Wellington Party, said she'd need to have a look at the current contract before taking a stance on the current pay.

However she said too often the people delivering a service are forgotten when contracts are being negotiated.

"I think that when you're going for any contract if you want to actually make it work you've got to make sure people are considered, that you've got to make sure they've got good conditions, that they are paid fairly paid and are able to work."

Councillor Daran Ponter is running for a second term and said there's a role central government could play in creating a national approach.

"In other words, have a single driver agreement across the country which may vary from centre to centre for some terms and conditions and wages, but effectively would be a standardised agreement as per what we have for collectives like nurses and teachers."

Mr Ponter said in the meantime regional councils should work with the government to put things like wage allowances in the collective agreements in the areas hardest hit by driver shortages.

Mr Ponter said driver wages in Wellington should be more than $25 an hour.

The Tramways Union's Kevin O'Sullivan said it was going to take more than increasing wages to attract drivers.

"The hourly rate people are paid is half or less than what the real issue is which is control over hours of work and until that issue is addressed there will continue to be problems."

He said for a start the union would like to see the agreement they have with NZ Bus, one of the two companies in Wellington, to be adopted across the board.

Metlink is the brand under which the regional council operates its bus services.

General Manager Greg Pollock explains wages are paid by operators, but they're funded by the regional council.

"There is a provision in contracts for wages to go up and to be escalated based on underlying inflation and things like that but at the moment of course there is a tight labour market and there are lots of competing industries for drivers.

"Putting the wages up might not be enough to change the current availability of drivers.

Mr Pollock said the council was discussing the terms and conditions of contracts with operators.

Greg Pollock says the system is short by 40 to 50 drivers, but 35 are in training now.

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