In today’s Herald, Tramways Union Secretary Kevin O’Sullivan has written about the need to end competitive tendering based on driving wages down. It’s a simple change the Government could make to improve the lives of tens of thousands of Kiwis.
The Herald‘s editorial call at New Year for prosperity for all is a good one and I’m all in favour of it as a bus driver and a unionist. But we need more than a growing economy to get there. We also need to make sure people and their families can get their share of that growth.
That’s not just about wage minimums and safety nets and government top-ups like Working for Families. No, it’s going to require changes to the way we do business. One big change we need is to stop competing by lowering Kiwi’s incomes.
I’ve got to make a disclaimer here, I’m a union official and one of the 700 bus drivers in Wellington facing a massive cut in income because the regional council here has tendered its public transport service on cost.
This is a mature industry where the buses, the depots, the fuel, all cost more or less the same regardless of provider, which means there are only two ways for bus companies to compete. Reduce the payroll or reduce the service.
For more than a decade we’ve worked with the current provider, NZ Bus, to increase safety, to grow our drivers’ terms and conditions and to increase efficiencies. The pay off has been that we’ve been able to maintain good solid middle incomes.
It used to be that way in Auckland too. And around the country. You were never going to get rich as a bus driver but you could pay the mortgage or rent, afford a meal out now and then, and make sure your kids had what they needed to do well — hopefully to do better than you.
Competitive contracting has taken that away for nearly every bus driver in New Zealand. Over and again, modest terms and conditions that were slowly and carefully built up over time have been taken away with nothing more than a change of contractor, leaving us to start building from scratch again.