WRF bangs the drum on Covid-driven skills shortage crisis

By: Rob McKay

Border closures may mean military drivers are an option, Dumesny says

WRF bangs the drum on Covid-driven skills shortage crisis
Cam Dumesny


Western Australia’s long-term border closures regime has made the state’s transport-worker shortage acute, with impacts being felt throughout the state economy, the Western Roads Federation (WRF) warns.

The growing crisis has prompted WRF chief executive Cam Dumesny to take to the airwaves and mainstream media in fear of a lack of state government urgency and in search of solutions for any industry where trucks are essential.

And he is not alone, with quarrying and bulk transport firm MLG Oz MD Murray Leahy telling the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper that WA’s hard border was having a dramatic effect on his company’s ability to meet demand.

Leahy says the industry is short 500 drivers, a figure Dumesny also relays to ATN for road trains.

According the WRF, the scope of problem is now as widespread, covering multiple sectors of the WA economy.

It reports that:

  • mining haulage drivers are a critical shortage, with one family owned member company reporting that, by December, they will be 96 road train drivers short.  Another WA family-owned company reports a shortage of 30 road-train drivers now
  • agriculture transport haulage companies are reporting shortage of drivers for the harvest, which is also being reported by the livestock and rural transporters
  • land development is according to discussions last week now seeing early signs of the transport shortage on their plans and projects
  • fresh produce transport companies providing the east-west linkages are reporting difficulty in recruiting and retaining drivers.
  • east-west resupply transport operators are struggling to recruit drivers with one family owned member company having nearly half their fleet parked up due to a shortage of drivers.
  • multi-national companies unable to get specialist staff in to WA to ensure that regulatory and compliance obligations are being met, plus shortages of heavy vehicle mechanics and operational staff.

The industry is also calling on state training minister Sue Ellery and transport minister Rita Saffioti to back a long-term training solution – an initiative that Saffioti is reported open to but awaiting details.

The WRF has looked to the ADF for trucking solutions before. Read it here

The WRF’s position is that while the industry supports a WA-first employment strategy, it needs time to recruit and train people.

Whilst doing that, it needs to be able to bring in interstate drivers and specialist transport skills staff "to fill the chronic shortage". 

"We can work with the government on a Covid management solution for interstate personnel," it says.

It offers three options:

  • create a managed solution to allow interstate skilled transport staff and operators to fly into and out of WA.  
  • seek local resource assistance, specifically the Australian Defence Force (ADF)
  • otherwise, as a last and non-preferred resort, slow down the WA economy and allow the growth to match the number of available skilled transport staff and operators.

On the use of military drivers, Dumesny tells The West Australian newspaper that this is how "dire" the situation has become.

The defence force always needs experience for their drivers and we’re at the point now where we are looking at anything and everything."

He notes to ATN and elsewhere that there are eastern-state drivers in the Pilbara who need to return home but whose employers fear the inability to secure replacements

Meanwhile, a uniform Covid-testing regime for truck drivers is on the agenda for Friday’s National Cabinet meeting, with a good chance of getting approval

"Some not keen on it, others see the merit in it. But certainly from the transport company side, those that are running across border, have realised that we’ve got to put something in place, to protect our drivers and also to protect the community," Dumesny tells Radio 6PR

"It just gets down now to practicality of how we can actually do it."

Dumesny sees testing at the border as unrealistic, with a regime where testing is done at seven or 14 day intervals at home depots preferred.


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