Bus drivers say a plan by one of our largest public bus operators to recruit staff from overseas is madness.
There's a countrywide driver shortage, and Ritchies Coachlines has made an Approval In Principal (AIP) request with Immigration New Zealand to recruit 110 migrant workers.
Bus and Coach Association chief executive Barry Kidd says it's a last resort move.
"At the moment there is a real shortage of bus drivers," he says.
"Bus operators are finding it difficult to recruit sufficient staff. Our estimate at the moment is that we're probably around 200 bus drivers short in Auckland."
However First Union bus organiser Graham McKean says it's wrong, and we need to look "long and hard" at what's happening.
"Bringing bus drivers in to take over the work that New Zealanders should be doing is wrong," he told The AM Show on Tuesday.
"If there's not enough drivers to do the job you should be paying more."
Mr Kidd says increasing demand in both the tourism and public sector is mounting pressure on our transport systems.
Ritchies Coachlines CEO Andrew Ritchie says his company is always looking at different ways to hire staff.
He says the company's AIP request is just one avenue, along with hiring through Work and Income.
However Mr McKean says conditions in the bus industry are bad, with low pay and long hours.
"Bus drivers are undervalued and underprivileged in society and we need to have their voices heard," he says.
Mr Kidd says the Government's Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) is aggravating the shortage.
The Ministry of Transport contracting model allows local councils to award public transport contracts to private operators offering the lowest fee.
"I don't think anyone anticipated there being so much change of operators," Mr Kidd says.
"That's lead to new operators needing to recruit and train staff. That's caused at least short term shortages, which is exacerbating the existing shortage."
Mr McKean agrees. He blames Auckland Transport's (AT) tendering process for putting downward pressure on the companies. He believes AT needs to get out from behind its "bureaucratic towers" and "answer to the public".
Minister of Transport Phil Twyford has asked for research into the effect of PTOM on employment conditions.
"There is also a broader evaluation of the model planned; I am waiting to see that evaluation," he says. The Ministry of Transport research is due back later this year.
Immigration New Zealand is considering the request to bring in migrant bus drivers and consulting with external parties on the availability of any New Zealanders to do the work.
Operations manager Tim Shepherd says employers must demonstrate they cannot find suitable workers in New Zealand.
The position of bus driver is not included on any of the skill shortages lists.