In­dus­tries join forces on im­mi­gra­tion

New Zealand Truck & Driver - - News -

AS THE DRIVER SHORT­AGE BE­COMES acute, op­er­a­tors are spend­ing more and more time look­ing for so­lu­tions – both short and longterm – to ad­dress the prob­lem and keep their trucks on the road. It may be of lit­tle com­fort to know that the driver short­age is not a New Zealand-only phe­nom­e­non. But all over the de­vel­oped world, coun­tries are strug­gling with find­ing enough driv­ers to ful­fil the freight task.

The fact is it’s get­ting harder and harder to at­tract young peo­ple to be­come pro­fes­sional truck driv­ers. It’s a skilled labour job and there’s a chronic short­age.

Sim­ply put, a lot of the road trans­port in­dus­try is not com­pet­i­tive in the skilled labour mar­ket ei­ther: These days a wide va­ri­ety of trades and pro­fes­sions are com­pet­ing for a lim­ited pool of jobseekers and school-leavers…and frankly as a sec­tor we’re strug­gling to keep up.

Other jobs in other in­dus­tries have be­come far more at­trac­tive – with ar­guably bet­ter work-life bal­ance, ca­reer pro­gres­sion and re­mu­ner­a­tion. With the pres­sure com­ing on the con­struc­tion sec­tor from large in­fra­struc­ture projects and ini­tia­tives like Ki­wibuild, for ex­am­ple, it is likely that we will face this com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment for a long time to come.

The good thing is in­dus­try ac­cepts that longterm the so­lu­tion must come from within. There is no doubt that the driver short­age is front-of-mind for us, as is il­lus­trated by in­dus­try ini­tia­tives such as SWEP.

How­ever, in other coun­tries there is sup­port for the in­dus­try by way of short-term im­mi­gra­tion mea­sures to help bring in over­seas driv­ers, hence the num­ber of East­ern Euro­peans in the United King­dom or the United States, driv­ing trucks.

Un­for­tu­nately, suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments in NZ have taken a much more na­tion­al­is­tic stance to im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy in re­cent years, par­tic­u­larly re­gard­ing work­ing visa rules. While this Gov­ern­ment has soft­ened its po­si­tion some­what since it was elected last year, there’s very lit­tle hope that pro­fes­sional driv­ing will find its way back onto Im­mi­gra­tion NZ’s skills short­age lists any­time soon.

Since truck driv­ers were re­moved from the Im­me­di­ate Skills

Short­age List in 2014, op­er­a­tors have found it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to re­cruit driv­ers from over­seas. The bu­reau­cracy is over­whelm­ing and anec­do­tally we hear from a lot of op­er­a­tors who have just given up be­cause of it.

While RTF con­tin­ues to ad­vo­cate for truck driv­ers to be re­in­stated, the like­li­hood of that hap­pen­ing is ex­tremely low. We have there­fore joined in a broader cam­paign in­volv­ing other prom­i­nent in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions fac­ing sim­i­lar work­force short­ages. This has re­cently been for­malised by the sign­ing of the Em­ploy­ment and Im­mi­gra­tion Char­ter.

The Char­ter’s stated ob­jec­tive is to “bring to­gether lead­ing in­dus­try or­gan­i­sa­tions and peak bod­ies with a com­mon in­ter­est in en­sur­ing that NZ has a vi­brant labour mar­ket, with suf­fi­cient ca­pac­ity to meet the needs of our grow­ing in­dus­tries.”

Sig­na­to­ries to the Char­ter rep­re­sent sec­tors that tra­di­tion­ally strug­gle to at­tract lo­cal work­ers – in­clud­ing forestry, hor­ti­cul­ture, farm­ing, aged care, civil con­trac­tors, hos­pi­tal­ity, tourism and road trans­port.

The Char­ter sets out some ba­sic prin­ci­ples that as­so­ci­a­tions rep­re­sent­ing these sec­tors be­lieve need to be ad­dressed in order for NZ to have an im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy con­sis­tent with the needs of our econ­omy.

We ad­vo­cate for a longterm strat­egy to en­sure there are suf­fi­cient mo­ti­vated NZers to re­source our fu­ture work­force needs and – where there are gaps in the labour force – that these can be bridged by the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a sta­ble and con­sis­tent im­mi­gra­tion pro­gramme.

We also want to see our im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies be com­pet­i­tive with those of other key coun­tries re­liant on im­mi­gra­tion to bridge labour short­ages, in­clud­ing Australia and Canada, as well as more pub­lic recog­ni­tion of the valu­able role mi­grant work­ers play in the NZ econ­omy.

While this Char­ter doesn’t call for spe­cific num­bers or ad­dress labour short­ages in spe­cific re­gions or in­dus­tries, it is de­signed to re­frame the de­bate around im­mi­gra­tion and move us away from the kind of xeno­pho­bia-laden pro­tec­tion­ist politics that have dom­i­nated the pub­lic de­bate over the past few years.

RTF will con­tinue to en­cour­age po­lit­i­cal par­ties to re­assess their poli­cies on im­mi­gra­tion and the value of mi­grant labour in in­dus­tries such as ours.

Un­for­tu­nately, many of our politi­cians have be­come con­vinced that pro­vid­ing jobs, hous­ing and in­fra­struc­ture for Ki­wis can only be achieved by damp­en­ing de­mand in those things, and re­ac­tionary anti-im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies are the low-hang­ing, voter-laden fruit in that blame game.

The re­al­ity there­fore is that the driver short­age will only be solved by en­cour­ag­ing and in­cen­tivis­ing a larger do­mes­tic work­force that can be sus­tained and ex­panded to meet the re­quire­ments of NZ’s fu­ture freight task.

To do that we have to work hard to im­prove the at­trac­tive­ness of our in­dus­try. Halt­ing the race to the bot­tom by charg­ing re­al­is­tic freight rates is a good place to start.


“Halt­ing the race to the bot­tom by charg­ing re­al­is­tic freight rates is a good place to start”

The Cana­dian truck­ing in­dus­try is fac­ing a short­age of 48,000 driv­ers by2024 – how­ever, Cana­dian im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy means that over­seas driv­ers are en­cour­aged to ap­ply for va­cant po­si­tionsPic­ture:“Coca Cola” by Ben­son Kua, li­censed un­der CC BY 2.0

by Ken Shirley Chief Ex­ec­u­tive R T F NZ

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