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Bus Drivers Arguably Underpaid, Admits Era

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Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Oct 19 NZPA - Bus drivers are arguably underpaid when compared to similar occupations, but now is not the time to address long-standing deficiency issues, says the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

The comments were in an ERA report made public following a disruptive pay dispute between NZ Bus and nearly 900 Auckland staff including drivers and cleaners.

The dispute led to a lock-out, crippling Auckland's bus network for seven days up until Thursday last week.

The ERA became involved in facilitation with the parties, releasing a report on Friday which recommended ways to settle the dispute.

It suggested a wage increase of 4.2 percent for the first 16 months, back-paid to July this year, then 3.9 percent for the next 14 months from November next year -- rises of about 70 cents an hour.

The collective agreement would expire on December 31, 2011 after the Rugby World Cup, ERA recommended.

Combined Bus Unions' spokesman Karl Andersen said the drivers could not accept the recommendations, which were lower than the offer which NZ Bus had previously put on the table.

But they could accept 70 cents for a 12 month deal from July this year, he said.

"However, if the company wants a longer term deal, then the $1.80 previously discussed needs to be part of the package.

"The proposal from the facilitator to reduce $1.80 to $1.40 is totally unacceptable."

The ERA said bus drivers were arguably underpaid.

"However, given all of the other circumstances surrounding the current negotiations I do not consider that now is the appropriate time, nor collective bargaining the appropriate forum, to address a long-standing deficiency in the pay structures of bus drivers."

That could have wide-ranging implications on issues such as the cost and funding of public transport and was beyond the scope for a single employer to address in the course of a bargaining round.

The ERA said it was satisfied NZ Bus was not currently in a financial position to agree to a large scale realignment of wages.

The report eluded to difficult financial times, but Mr Andersen said that was disappointing when NZ Bus was "totally unaffected" by the recession.

"Patronage is up, revenue is up, diesel costs are down -- everything's fine."

NZ Bus general manager operations Zane Fulljames said: "The independent recommendation of the ERA reinforces that our offer to the unions has been both fair and competitive."

The unions and NZ Bus will meet again on Friday for mediation with the Department of Labour.

Bus drivers with at least nine months experience, which make up 91.5 percent of the work force, are currently paid $16.75 an hour.

New drivers are paid $15.82 and trainee drivers $14.05.

NZPA WGT co dj

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