Call for help to avert trucking industry 'catastrophe

By: Jason Whittaker

An industry group is turning to the government to help avert a "catastrophe" in the trucking industry as claims abound

An industry group is turning to the government to help avert a "catastrophe" in the trucking industry as claims abound customers and prime contractors are refusing to pay sustainable freight rates.

The South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) is holding meetings with the Rann Government to ask it to support an information campaign to pressure businesses into compensating trucking operators for increased fuel costs.

The organisation’s executive director, Steve Shearer, says many clients and some prime-contractors are not accepting higher fuel levies, which is affecting operators’ financial viability.

After securing $15,000 from the South Australian Freight Council, the Government is now being asked to help bankroll and information blitz designed to push the importance of ensuring operators recoup running costs.

Shearer has sent out flyers to peak business bodies telling them to urge their members to accept higher freight rates or face the consequences.

"All of these people need to understand that their businesses will only continue to survive if the road transport companies that move their freight continue to survive," Shearer says.

"That’s not going to happen if people keep refusing to pay adequate fuel levies or increased rates."

Unless customers heed the message, Shearer fears many operators will buckle under increasing cost pressures, an outcome, he says, which will have a disastrous impact on the State’s economy.

He says "significant-sized operators" as well as many owner-drivers are struggling to remain viable on the back of record-high fuel prices, which continue to surge as the price of oil edges closer to $US150 a barrel.

"We are saying quite genuinely that in four to six months time there will be a catastrophic level of collapse within the trucking industry if customers across the board don’t start paying reasonable fuel levies and rates," Shearer says.

While criticising retail chains for ignoring calls to pay greater freight rates, Shearer is especially scathing in his response to claims the industry itself is ripping off drivers.

"There are some mercenary larger businesses that are not passing on appropriate fuel increases to their sub-contractors although they are out there getting it from their customers," he says.

"That’s pretty hard when somebody who is in the industry is refusing to pass on an appropriate fuel levy. And when you know that they are actually getting the fuel levy from their customers, well that’s bordering on unconscionable conduct."

But he adds companies are still struggling to contain costs even when clients do honour their fuel levies. He says many operators have to wait between 60 and 90 days to be reimbursed and some are struggling to meet costs in that timeframe.

Repeating claims from other industry groups, Shearer says operators must get their cost structure in order and refuse to work for unsustainable rates.

While noting it is easy to tell operators to pass on costs, he says they can either choose to continue to remain viable or risk going bankrupt.

"And if we do work for unsustainable rates then we have got no right to be surprised when we go broke and no right to complain about it all," he says.

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