A London bus company is employing drivers from France because of a recruitment crisis that has seen unfilled vacancies across the capital rise to nearly 3,000.
London United, which is owned by the French company Transdev, is offering French recruits subsidised language lessons as well as help finding affordable housing.
It is also conducting a feasibility study into recruiting bus drivers from another Transdev company in Portugal.
Karen Fuller, HR manager for London United, said it was a short-term measure as overseas recruits were not expected to stay for longer than six to 12 months.
The move reflects an industry-wide problem hitting London particularly hard. Some companies in the capital are experiencing turnover rates of up to 40 per cent.
Fuller said, "We need around 150 drivers. We’re required under contract to hit certain time schedules and with the driver shortage it’s a struggle to do that."
Other London United initiatives include trying to improve the image of the job and encouraging the public to appreciate bus drivers more. It is also setting up non-financial reward strategies for drivers and investing in training, as well as advertising extensively and having recruitment open days.
Research carried out by the National Online Manpower Information System at the University of Durham, part of the Office for National Statistics, shows there are almost 3,000 driver vacancies across London.
The figures, obtained from London’s JobCentres, show that areas with the highest numbers of unfilled driver vacancies include Enfield, Croydon, Ealing and Poplar with between 100 and 150 vacancies in each area.
The TUC blames privatisation, poor pay and the high cost of living in London, pointing to a pay gap of 25 per cent between public and private-sector workers in the capital.
Geoff Martin, of Battersea and Wandsworth TUC, said, "With the logjam in London’s streets set to continue, we need to attract and retain drivers."
By Lisa Bratby