Drivers a central concern in early Senate probe submissions


Trucking inquiry responses focus on obstacles to renewal and proper standards

Drivers a central concern in early Senate probe submissions
Glenn Sterle

 

It is still early days in the Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport’s trucking inquiry but the issues of skills and recruitment are high on the agenda at present.

The inquiry on the ‘Importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry’, led by senator Glenn Sterle, has garnered eight submissions so far, with interested Western Australian parties making up three of them.

Trucking companies

Tipping’s Transport MD of 30 years Sally Tipping insists the poor view of the industry is affecting its ability to attract new entrants.

"Personally, my greatest concern being the lack of positivity, within the industry and also more concerning the lack of a positive public perception," Tipping, whose firm is based in Dubbo, states.

"I honestly believe if the transport industry gains a positive public perception it will then flow into our industry, giving it a strong robust future.

"If the public starts viewing the Transport Industry as a fabulous and an essential part of a society needs, it will then be more accepted on our roads and also as a chosen career path for future employment."

LN Price & Partners GM Allan Price, who has fuel and transport interests in southern WA, is critical of the national licensing of heavy vehicle drivers. Price critiques:

  • the lack of Training Accreditation Council recognition of it as needing registered training organisation involvement as a mandatory requirement
  • the lack of mandatory formal training, saying that "essentially drivers are learning on the job by trial & error"
  • the inability of smaller operators to have the resources to train drivers
  • competition with non-compliant operators.

Mark Mazza, CEO of WA’s South West Express, makes no bones about his view that the industry is "in crisis" due to the "inevitable driver shortage", devoting most of his submission to the weakness in training and skills and the chronically poor political and bureaucratic response during this century.

Like Tipping, Mazza sees public perception as playing a role.

"The fact that the industry is held in such low regard and dare I say ‘contempt’ by so many within society is disheartening," he writes.

He argues for an apprenticeship scheme run by the TAFE system.

"Competency is now the issue," he says, noting it comes at a time when transport demand is "reaching hyperdrive".

"The standard of drivers has fallen to such a level that damage, down time and transiency within the industry is costing untold millions.

"This cannot continue.

"All the hard work we have done regarding industry safety through management compliance in the last two decades will soon be undone as a consequence.

"The system is letting down our industry, other road users and our future drivers."


Read how the Senate trucking inquiry was established, here


Like Price and peak bodies before the inquiry was called, Mazza identifies insurance as an obstacle.

"Insurance providers put onerous financial restrictions on employers who employ people under the age of 25 and or who have less than two years' experience," he points out.

"This can be as much as $10,000 on top of an excess of $4000 or more.

"So, if a transport operator employs an MC driver, who by law is deemed to be competent by virtue of the fact they have the licence. The employer can be hit with a $15,000 excess bill if an incident takes place. For many in our industry with tight margins, this is a risk too great to take. So how does the licence holder gain experience?

"If you think this is a Catch 22 situation you would be correct."

"As with upgrading from a heavy rigid to a heavy combination, the individual only has to possess the licence for one year and not actually drive in the industry."

He argues such a system "is completely inappropriate", with huge risks for drivers, transport companies and the general public that are exacerbated by the unsustainable ageing of the driver workforce.

The drivers

Drivers have been quick to put similar points across, including on obstacles to recruitment.

Veteran driver Ken Warneke – who claims four decades behind the wheel and is weary of the same issues being talked about throughout that time – feels the frustration of those who want to enter the industry keenly, saying he constantly gets "asked by young people, ‘How do I get experience?’" before noting some of the obstacles.

"The insurance companies have a 25 year old minimum for drivers," Warneke writes.

"You just need to get onto some of our driver forums and read what's going on. Grass roots drivers don’t have time to go to any of these seminars that are put on.

"They’re out there trying to earn a living. You need people on the ground talking to drivers. Not some white collar worker who thinks he knows all about it."

A submission from Mark Baker Transport focuses on the difficulties existing drivers face.

It calls for:

  • heavy-duty truck inspectors to be armed with one book of regulations
  • uniformity of vehicle mass and length
  • standard working hours.

"There are so many inconsistency with laws regulating industries across each state. As a driver it puts us on tender hooks. I could go on and on and on," it states.

"But really we need to listen to ground level operators and drivers and lastly we need to stop imports on cheap machinery for use in transport."

Driver Dale Compton is also focused on the job at hand, calling for "better rest areas, further off the highways to give us a quieter sleep" and bigger service centres to accommodate more trucks.

Compton raises the inequities of how working time is counted and impacts of issues beyond drivers’ control.

"We as an industry need to have practises and personal in place to unload and load trucks in timely fashion. In the past transporting consumables I have been waiting 4-13 hours," he write .

"The work diary needs to be scrapped and maybe introduce the electronic one but with the option of minute by minute rest breaks.

"Currently we go over the 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 or hour by seconds or minute we have to put in our work diary the next 15 min block. So we can lose a lot of time during the day for this.

"This in particular for me really needs to change."

 

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