Aging workforce, retail pressure headline latest TWU survey

Survey of more than 950 truck drivers highlights inability to attract fresh blood, while also blaming retail for industry's ills

Aging workforce, retail pressure headline latest TWU survey
Aging workforce, retail pressure marks latest TWU survey
April 11, 2013

A Transport Workers Union (TWU) survey of almost 1,000 truck drivers from across the country has marked an aging workforce and the practices of the retail sector as key problems afflicting the transport industry.

The survey of more than 950 truck drivers was conducted at truck stops, yards, depots, distribution centres and online to gauge drivers’ thoughts on the state of the industry.

Almost half (46 percent) of all drivers who completed the survey were aged 50 years or older. The TWU says the figure represents the serious aging issues in the industry and the problems trucking has attracting young people.

In line with the TWU’s claims about the power retailers wield over transport operators and drivers, many respondents blame the retail sector for pressuring drivers to skip breaks, forego maintenance, speed and drive overloaded trucks.

TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon says the results show "it’s the big retailers that are responsible for the squeeze on truckies".

"But when you squeeze truckies day in and day out, forcing them to meet impossible deadlines and paying them dangerously low rates, you have a recipe for disaster," Sheldon says.

"The results of this lethal squeeze are all too apparent, with hundreds of people tragically killed and thousands more injured each year in truck crashes."

The TWU says 73 percent of respondents carting freight for Coles point to retail as the major cause of dangerous pressures on the trucking industry.

It says 46 percent feel pressure to skip breaks, with almost one in three drivers feeling pressure to exceed safe driving hours. Almost the same amount reports the need to speed (28 percent) and to carry overweight loads (26 percent).

Unpaid waiting times continue to be a burden, with more than a third of respondents hauling goods for retail saying they were not paid for hours spent waiting to load and unload.

Another 24 percent reported waiting more than 11 hours when loading and unloading their truck.

Truck driver Scott Bowles, who completed the survey, claims drivers are given "ridiculous times" to reach their destinations.

"The days are now just constant driving. You don’t have time to take breaks, and spending time at home with the family – forget it. You’ve almost got to be out on the road 24/7 just to pay the bills," he says.

While the union holds Coles accountable for many of the industry’s ills, the Wesfarmers-owned retailer has repeatedly stated it does not force drivers to commit unsafe or illegal practices.

In a statement provided to ATN, a spokesman for the company dismissed the TWU's survey.

"We would suggest a push poll can deliver whatever outcome is desired," the spokesman says.

"We’ve become used to the TWU’s baseless claims about our transport arrangements. We would note that they’ve previously claimed Coles was responsible for Wettenhalls going into administration, despite Coles having no dealings with the company."

The spokesman says transport providers are required to comply with road safety laws and regulations.

"Heavy vehicle enforcement authorities have been briefed regularly on Coles' approach to chain of responsibility and have acknowledged the rigour and robustness of our processes and procedures. We have never been investigated nor prosecuted for any chain of responsibility breaches," he says.

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