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Retaining bus drivers the key

A pathway to residency for migrant bus drivers isn’t enough to plug the gaps, one union representative says, as the Government moves to urgently attract much-needed workers.

Immigration minister Michael Wood announced on Monday the Government was expanding the Green List to fill labour shortages, with bus and truck drivers having a time-limited residence pathway through a sector agreement. 

“Our sector agreements are in place across the construction, seafood, aged care, meat processing, seasonal snow, and adventure tourism sectors,” Wood said.

“Today we have agreed to extend the scheme to bus and truck drivers with a time-limited, two-year residence pathway.

“The agreement will support our work underway to improve better wages and conditions for bus drivers and local workforce development. This will help relieve the national driver shortage, helping Kiwis and goods get to where they need to go.”

A Tranzit spokesperson said that, similar to many operators in the bus and coach industry, Tranzit was experiencing workforce pressures in its urban operations, particularly in cities such as Wellington and Auckland.

“Operators have already begun recruiting from overseas through existing immigration policy to fill vacancies and improve reliability across public transport networks.

“Tranzit does not have a bus driver shortage in Wairarapa or across the regional areas we operate in. Although we do acknowledge we don’t have the same comfortable level of surplus drivers that we previously had, and this does put pressure on our operations team’s ability to cover both planned and unplanned leave.

“There is workforce pressure all around unfortunately.”

Across the Greater Wellington region there are about 120 bus driver vacancies. Nationwide, thousands of drivers are needed.

Tranzit said the time-limited residency pathway for bus drivers was subject to a sector agreement which was yet to be developed but looking to start in the new year.

“At this time, we don’t have any further details that we can share,” they said.

However, First Union general secretary Dennis Maga said that whereas the announcement was welcome, it didn’t go far enough.

“There are a couple of things to understand, drivers are short-paid. We’re trying to get them $30 an hour through government funding and getting bus operators to pay more.

“The second thing is health and safety conditions, we need better training if drivers are coming from overseas because they’re driving in a different environment.

Maga said that attracting drivers was necessary, but the pay rate was not competitive enough, and the industry was struggling to retain drivers.

“We’re struggling to fill the industry because people are taking jobs in Australia or moving into truck driving because the pay is better.

“If you’re only addressing one part of the problem, how do you retain local drivers?

“These drivers will continue to walk away from the job –- residency is only a short-term solution.”

ACT immigration spokesperson James McDowall said the announcement should have happened sooner.

“This is governing in slow motion. We are desperately short of nurses, bus services have stopped running, and we don’t have enough teachers.

“These should all have been green-lit months ago.”





George Shiers
George Shiers
George Shiers is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age interested in politics and social issues. He reports regularly on a range of topics including infrastructure, housing, and transport. George is also the Tararua reporter and helps cover police, fire and court stories.

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