Thursday, February 2, 2023
HomeNew ZealandFrustrated school bus drivers eye change to public transport

Frustrated school bus drivers eye change to public transport

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Some school bus drivers are reportedly thinking about quitting to drive on better-paid public transport routes.
Photo: RNZ/ Dom Thomas

School bus drivers warn some school routes might have no drivers when classes resume next year.

They say some of their colleagues are thinking about quitting to drive on better-paid public transport routes.

School buses were not covered by the government’s $61 million boost to lift base hourly rates for drivers in the public transport sector to at least $28 in the regions and $30 in the main centres.

Rotorua school bus driver Raeleen Brunel told RNZ the deal meant she was earning over $5 an hour less than her husband, who drove on urban public transport routes.

“It is sort of soul-destroying because it makes us feel as if we’re second-class, you know, we’re not as good as the other guys and that is just so wrong, because I believe that we do an amazing job getting our young people to school and getting them there safely.”

School bus drivers cared about the kids they transported and had to develop good relationships with them, Brunel said.

A driver, who asked not be named, said the pay difference was not fair.

“We need to have the same pay basically,” he said.

Some of his colleagues were wondering why they should continue driving school buses when they could switch to public transport routes and earn several dollars more per hour, he said.

“I think in the new year, if things don’t change, there’ll be a number of people just walking to the other option.”

This week, Education Minister Chris Hipkins told Parliament the government was aware of the problem and was considering how to fix it.

Bus and Coach Association chief executive Ben McFadgen said he hoped a solution would be announced before Christmas.

“I do believe that the minister has gone to Cabinet asking for funding, for an appropriation to cover any increases in the education sector, and I believe that the ministry is hoping to make an announcement ideally before Christmas, but they certainly intend to get something in place by the beginning of next year.”

Tramways Union vice-president Peter Dowden said without a pay rise, there was a risk some bus companies would not have enough drivers to staff all their school routes next year.

Drivers on school routes needed a clear message their pay would improve, Dowden said.

“They could start next week as urban drivers in some cases if they wanted, and that means that they’ll be well and truly settled into urban work before time term 1 starts next year and that’ll be the last we see of them,” he said.

“So that’s why I really want the message to get out there from the minister, through the bus company contractors, out to the school bus drivers that there is a job waiting for them next year, that will have reasonable pay.”

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