Wellington Scoop

Bus owners and drivers reach agreement on flexibility for new meal breaks

Report from RNZ
Bus drivers have reached an agreement to avoid what operators said could have been thousands of cancelled services when new laws on meal breaks come into force next week.

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill coming into force on 6 May requires that employees receive two 10-minute rest breaks and a 30-minute meal break across an eight-hour day.

Some companies said the changes would mean drivers would have to take breaks in the middle of service runs, which would throw everything off schedule.

But bus companies, councils, unions and the government reached a provisional agreement in a memorandum of understanding late last week. That means all drivers get their breaks, so long as they are very flexible about when they get them.

Tramways Union Wellington secretary Kevin O’Sullivan said some drivers would need to take breaks at the beginning or end of their routes, to minimise disruption.

“The breaks will be either paid or compensated for. So the companies have worked out where breaks can be taken in duties, where they can’t be taken they’ve been tacked onto the start or finish time of some duties. And in a small number of cases they can’t be taken at all, and in those cases I do believe some services may have to be cancelled,” he said.

“The government has given the parties 12 months in which to … make the industry fully compliant with the new legislation.

Some drivers would be behind the wheel for up to four hours at a time before getting a break, Mr O’Sullivan said, meaning they would be paid for four hours and ten minutes.

Operators had found a way to incorporate a break in the longest shifts drivers currently work, which were five and a half hours long, he said. “Very, very few” shifts that long would have no break, he said. The bus operators would have a year to rework rosters, timetables, and add more buses and drivers, so they could fully comply with the new law.

The unions looked forward to being involved in that process, Mr O’Sullivan said.

A formal announcement on the deal is expected later this week.

News from NZ Government
A new land transport rule agreed to by Cabinet aims to help avert thousands of bus services being cancelled and give bus drivers the rest breaks they need to keep passengers safe, Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced.

The new rule is in response to concerns raised by councils, bus operators and unions that new rest and meal break entitlements, which come into effect on Monday 6 May, would cause the cancellation of numerous daily bus services.

The changes to the Employment Relations Act require employers and employees to reach agreement on rest and meal breaks together. If agreement can’t be reached rest breaks are to be taken in the middle of a work period.

Phil Twyford said the new rule gives flexibility to bus operators when scheduling rest breaks for bus drivers. “I want to thank all parties for trying to make this work: the operators have risen to the challenge of a very complex scheduling task; the unions have been constructive and accommodating by giving operators the flexibility to schedule breaks to minimise disruption; and the councils have been flexible in the timetabling of services.

“Our Government believes that bus drivers, like all workers, deserve fair breaks. This is not only an issue of fairness, it is an issue of public safety for passengers and other road users. This regulatory intervention is intended only as an interim solution while operators adjust their schedules to implement the changes.”

Phil Twyford and Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway held meetings at Parliament with bus operators, councils and unions to find a way to manage the transition to the new rules on breaks with minimal disruption to passengers.

Iain Lees-Galloway said in addition to the new land transport rule, councils, union heads and bus operators had agreed on a Memorandum of Understanding. “This sets the foundation for working together to transition the bus industry to the new breaks in a fair and efficient way, and to then work to address wider issues affecting the industry,” Iain Lees-Galloway said.


News from BCA
The Bus and Coach Association NZ (BCA) says it is committed to working alongside the government, regional councils and bus driver unions as the sector introduces the new driver break rules prescribed in changes to the Employment Relations Act which take effect from Monday 6 May. BCA chief executive Barry Kidd said the sector has signed up to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which commits the parties to work collaboratively to try and minimise the logistical issues and transport disruptions the changes will create as bus rosters are changed.

“We are grateful for the efforts of the Minister of Transport and Minister of Workplace Relations in creating the MOU. Bus operators, who have all signed the MOU, are committed to making sure they comply with the new rules.

“The recent changes to the Employment Relations Act, which take effect from next Monday, formalise breaks for bus drivers. While this is a move supported by industry, it does create challenges, particularly in the major cities at peak time, with the need for new rosters.

“The BCA and our members have for some time been working with the Ministers, officials, regional councils, unions and drivers to assess the likely level of disruption from the legislative changes and to take steps to minimise it as we shift to new driver rosters. As all the parties sort through these issues, bus users might need to be prepared for some disrupted services. We hope they can be patient, and even consider alternative modes of transport if their regular service is impacted.

“Ultimately the solution will need more resourcing to provide more drivers and buses. We will keep talking to regional councils and the government on that, as part of the wider discussions about investing in public transport to relieve congestion on our roads and getting people to where they need to be,” Mr Kidd said.