Online shopping boom leaves couriers 'burnt out'

The boom in online shopping is leaving couriers “burnt out”, and as Christmas approaches the industry is under increasing pressure

Online shopping boom leaves couriers 'burnt out'
Online shopping boom leaves couriers 'burnt out'

By Brad Gardner | October 28, 2011

The boom in online shopping is leaving courier drivers "burnt out", and as Christmas approaches there are warnings the industry will not be able to meet demand.

Veteran courier driver for Australian Air Express and Star Track Express, Billy Berka, says employee drivers and contractors are under increasing pressure from shoppers turning to the internet to purchase goods.

Berka says the number of parcels destined for private addresses has grown exponentially in recent years and drivers are working longer and skipping breaks to try and get the job done.

"When I first started in this industry a lot of the deliveries were to stores to fill orders, but nowadays there are thousands of deliveries to houses," he says.

"Last Christmas we had more deliveries to private addresses than what you had to businesses because…people were going on the internet."

A report prepared for PricewaterhouseCoopers earlier this year expected online shopping expenditure in Australia to reach $13.6 billion by the end of 2011, increasing to $21.7 billion by 2015.

Berka, who is also a Transport Workers Union (TWU) delegate at AAE, says drivers could not keep up with demand last year. He believes the 2011 festive season could be worse due to a shortage of couriers.

"We’ve got that much pressure on us now and we’re not even at Christmas," he says.

"There’s just not enough couriers around."

The TWU says early results of its survey of the transport sector show courier drivers are feeling the pinch. Assistant Secretary Michael Kaine says the pressures usually seen in the interstate transport sector are happening at a local level and it is causing workplace injuries.

He says one-third of couriers in 2009 suffered chronic injuries to their back, limbs and shoulders while loading and unloading vehicles.

Berka, who recently had a shoulder reconstruction, has also had surgery on his knee and is currently suffering from a rotator cuff injury. He fears more drivers will suffer injuries and there will be a backlog of parcels if nothing is done in the lead-up to Christmas.

He reports drivers suffering ankle and hip injuries from climbing in and out of their vehicles and a rise in the number of workers taking sick leave.

"I don’t know what’s going to happen because you’ve got Christmas coming along and these blokes are burning out now," Berka says.

"If they can’t replace the drivers, the freight will be left behind."

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report says price and range are the key drivers behind the growth in online shopping. It estimates $6 billion alone will be spent by Australians on overseas websites this year.

"This equates to 44% of the total online purchases for 2011, an increase of 25% from 2010," the report says.

Australia Post reported a 5.3 percent rise in revenue growth for its parcels division last financial year, with the result largely due to online shopping.

The company delivers 98 percent of online retailer Catch of the Day’s orders, which ranges from 2000 to 10,000 parcels a day.

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