Greater Wellington Regional Council has made several pleas to the Government for help with its bus driver shortage but the job will not be put on immigration skills shortage lists.

A chronology of requests provided by GWRC shows it sought Government help five times between December 2018 and July 2019.

In a briefing letter to Transport Minister Phil Twyford the council said it was experiencing "extreme" driver shortages.

"Bus drivers are not currently on the immigration skills list. This makes it very difficult to recruit internationally.

"Urgent assistance is sought to support placement of drivers on the skills list to facilitate bringing in drivers. This will supplement recruitment programmes locally", the briefing read.


When asked what action was taken on GWRC's requests, Twyford said a tripartite group has been established including bus operators, councils and unions to tackle long-term issues.

Twyford has also asked NZTA to speed up the processing of P endorsements, which are needed for those driving a large passenger service vehicle.

"We're continuing to work through the issues that the regional council and others have raised," he said.

Across the city there are 56 planned service cancellations every day to try give commuters certainty and ease the pressure on operators struggling to cope.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said he had laid down a number of challenges to the industry.

"Before reaching to Immigration to fill labour shortages they need to be planning for their labour force needs, supporting Kiwis into jobs, paying decent wages and providing good conditions."

Bus drivers were not considered to be at the right skill level to be included on the shortage lists, he said.

Wellington's bus network will face further pressure when a grace period for the introduction of new paid rest and meal breaks ends next year.


A transition period of 12 months was negotiated following fears the new rules could not be implemented without cancelling thousands of bus services across the country.

But Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said he was not confident there would be enough drivers by the end of that period if the job was not put on shortage lists.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says employers are still able to recruit foreign workers as bus drivers. Photo / Mark Mitchel
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says employers are still able to recruit foreign workers as bus drivers. Photo / Mark Mitchel

GWRC chair Chris Laidlaw described the move as a stop-gap measure until a long term solution for better wages and working terms and conditions could be reached.

"In the short run we really have to have an arrangement whereby drivers can be recruited from overseas."

But Lees-Galloway said employers were still able to recruit foreign workers as bus drivers.

Twelve work visa applications from the Philippines were lodged with Immigration New Zealand over July and August for bus drivers in Wellington.

Seven have been approved and five are still being assessed.

They are being processed under the Essential Skills category, which allows people to enter the country on a temporary basis to fill shortages.

But Immigration officers need to be satisfied there are no suitable New Zealanders available to take up a job which has been offered to a foreign national who does not already hold a visa enabling them to work.