For a few weeks leading into the Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra earlier this month, having your place at one of the many industry ’roundtables’ seemed to be the industry’s hot ticket item.
But where were all the hard-working truckies who are out there on the frontlines, dealing first-hand with the myriad of issues the industry is still facing? Aside from Rod Hannifey, the president of the National Road Freighters Association, a long way from the halls of power, from what we could tell.
So, we gathered Hannifey, and three other high-profile truckies – Mike Williams, Trevor Warner and Corrina Riley – for an informal roundtable of our own and set them loose in a Facebook group to debate some of the hottest topics.
Here’s an edited version of their discussion.
The driver shortage
Hannifey: Is there a driver shortage, or is there a shortage of conditions that see older drivers leave and then no one to replace them?
When we worked 100 plus hours a week you could make good money risking your life to deliver the freight, you can’t do that, nor should you now, but the money for the job, the responsibility and for the overall task, is not there and so we have to get drivers from overseas who welcome what we want, a chance to have a family and a life.
Riley: As Rod said, is it a driver shortage? Or, is it a shortage of conditions that see older drivers leave and no one to replace them?
I think the driver shortage comes ‘partly” from us being a “nanny state” now!
I mean back in ‘the day’ we took our kids and they learned from us what we learned from our parents and so on, and all kids wanted to be drivers just like dad or (mum nowadays). We have missed out on a new generation of young drivers who have been trained from a young age.
It is rare to find a company that even allows passengers these days.
Instead, we hire people from overseas and give them an MC licence over a two day period.
And expect them to know what they’re doing! They may be filling the driver seats … but at what cost?
We need to be training anyone going into a heavy vehicle for a minimum 6-weeks’ period I believe – covering all aspects of the job.
Williams: I’m torn on the apprenticeship idea. The cynical side of me says it’s just a way for companies to offset their wage bill. If it leads to a more professional driver then fine but I can’t see it. They’re talking TAFE etc. how many truly experienced drivers are well enough qualified academically to teach at TAFE? How many would want to? More to the point, what can be taught a TAFE that couldn’t be taught in a transport yard?
I have calls from listeners who say that the opportunities to learn have been lost with the OH&S reforms. Kids don’t go with the old man any longer, etc. There’s no doubt that’s the case.
I believe companies don’t want to train because they know that there is nothing
tying the driver to them when the training is done. They know that the training is portable.
They don’t improve pay because they’ve never had to before, there’s always been a driver laying about somewhere. This motivates the call for having drivers seen as skilled migrants.
It gets them over the hurdle and imported into the country, the companies abrogate their responsibility to train because they have another source of drivers open to them and as far as they’re concerned, it’s business as usual and even better it’s a group (usually) with no understanding of their rights under Australian industrial law or as an employee in this country.
Besides K rate is better than anything they’ve received before. Companies achieve the status quo. Problem solved.
Hannifey: Maybe the apprenticeship, if done by companies with those drivers who have had enough and want to leave, but could teach and then pass on their skills and knowledge would be a good compromise.
But as you suggest, some companies (and to be fair with some, very slim margins) don’t see the need to spend their money.
I must say I asked David Simon once how he felt about training drivers for the industry. They had a program and once some have the skills and these were then well recognised by other companies, new recruits wanted a big KW and to do 100 k instead of 90 in a Simon’s Volvo. He said he would rather train then and have them work for someone else, than to have someone with no training coming at his trucks every day.
If a few more adopted that theme, it would change over time. Yes, not having your kids is an issue, but most drivers I know, don’t want their kids to go through and have the life they had to live.
As you say, the fact that there were those available to step in, has seen too many become complacent and unless we are paid what we are worth in this current market and climate, we will be taking what we are given, because those from overseas certainly see this job as better than they have had anywhere else.
I wish I either had the one definitive answer or the capacity to solve it all. So many complain we haven’t fixed it, but they will do nothing to help.
Drivers leave employers, not the industry
Warner: The road transport industry as it stands now, has reached a critical point where cost of doing business and retail pricing met a juncture. There is no longer a profit to be made and real costs to transport companies are being put on the imaginary overdraft.
Large company are reporting 2-3 per cent profits.
Coles Group has a revenue of $39 billion in 2021 and could only carve out a net profit of around $1.2 billion.
If you had $39 billion, you could get more return by buying Treasury Bonds with zero risk.
For trucking to survive in its current form, freight rates must increase, that’s a given. Productivity must increase.
Trucking is being hampered by the ever increasing red tape and regulations.
Unfortunately, much of this has been caused by poor trained truck driver’s impacting positive safety outcomes.
The legal minefield becomes harder to negotiate and gets more expensive and again, here is another cost that increases.
Truck drivers are no longer accepting of being treated like a dog. Some employers still expect driver’s to sleep in hot noisy conditions. Regulations demand driver’s cannot drive their trucks if the work diary isnt used or is within regulatory hours.
It’s all things that impacts a driver’s mental health by being locked down in places you may not want to be.
No “Jobs Summit” will address these issues. A jobs summit will only address the minimum, of which we already have, that are more often than not, not followed.
Wage theft and Super theft is rampant.
Only recently, a large Queensland-based company started paying the correct super.
Even though the ATO clearly says, if you pay by the km rate, you must use the km rate formula and MUST NOT use the minimum formula.
This same company expects driver’s to live like rechargable power tools and they wonder why they have Driver retention issues..
What other industry pays its workers like a Long Distance Truck Driver? no OT after 12hrs. No penalty rates. No compensation for being stood down away from your home base…etc, etc.
Even the Road Transport and Distribution Award pays for meals and accommodation.
Not the Long Distance sector. They managed to convince the FWC that living away from home should be reduced to $40 odd per day.
All-in-all, its hardly compensation for the conditions endured.
Drivers leave employers, they don’t leave the industry.
This has all been said before, but the industry keeps ignoring the increasing problem.
About the panel:
One of the most vocal safety advocates for drivers over many years, interstate driver of the TRUCKRIGHT Kenworth, a travelling industry billboard for road safety, and president of the National Road Freighters Association.
A veteran NSW-based driver, popular social media commentator, regular Big Rigs columnist and host of the top-rating podcast On the Road.
Board director at Women in Trucking Australia and MC truck driver operator at Gaff’s Heavy Haulage.
Experienced interstate driver, vice-president of the National Road Freighters Association, and creator of The Drivers Advocate Facebook group.