With the pandemic reasonably behind us, life is slowly returning to normal, and with-it Australia’s borders are open to new migrants and permanent residents. Indeed, the conversations are now reverting to the concept of a “Big Australia”, and definitions around a reasonable annual immigration in-take.
Much of this discussion is framed in the context of rising living costs, and concerns that housing, transport, food, medicine, and other essential goods and services will disproportionally increase with higher numbers of immigrant workers.
While there is some merit in this point of view, it must also be remembered that Australia still faces major labour shortages, and that migration must be one of several tools to increase our national workforce.
This is especially the case with transport where the VTA has been advocating for professional drivers to be added to a list of priority occupations under the Migration Act. The sub-continent, including countries like India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, is well-suited to helping replenish our pool of drivers because there is already evidence of migration spikes among these community groups, many of which boast a rich tradition of transport work, particularly driving.
Australia’s vast landscape demands an efficient freight industry. Transport is the lifeblood of our economy, ensuring that goods reach their destinations across great distances. However, our ageing workforce, driver demand exceeding supply, and challenging work conditions that discourages some demographics, are among the many factors in transport worker shortages.
To address this pressing issue, Australia must embrace freight workers from the sub-continent, who bring valuable skills and experience to the table. It makes sense because countries like India and Pakistan have a proud history of freight and logistics. Their workers often come with valuable skills and experience, which can significantly benefit the Australian freight industry.
As well, these workers can make an immediate contribution to the industry after training in rules and regulations that are specific to Australia. This can help bridge the labour gap and increase productivity, reducing the cost of goods transportation which benefits consumers and businesses alike.
Embracing sub-continent workers also enhances the diversity of Australia’s workforce, fostering a more inclusive and multicultural society. This diversity can also improve cultural understanding and international trade relations.
Melbourne’s Indian Punjabi community is one that is well-placed to help alleviate transport worker shortages, and I’ve had the recent pleasure or working closely with this community and being welcomed into their traditions.
Western and north-western parts of Melbourne are the epicentre of freight and logistics in Victoria with two new freight terminals earmarked for construction, Inland Rail, two major airports, and major national road infrastructure in the region.
The Punjabi community has recognised the opportunities for the industry in these communities, which is why we are seeing pronounced growth in their numbers in Melbourne’s west.
To ensure a smooth integration of sub-continent freight workers into the Australian industry, tailored training programs are essential. Training that helps foreign workers obtain the necessary licenses and certifications required to operate commercial vehicles in Australia is essential, and the VTA will continue to advocate for change to increase standards.
Of course, language barriers can hinder effective communication, leading to safety issues, confusion, and potentially deadly mistakes. Language training to improve workers’ English proficiency, ensuring clear communication with colleagues and clients, is essential.
On the flipside, established workers need to be sensitive to the cultural norms and diversity of our migrant workers. Australians are generally a generous, caring, and welcoming lot, and this attitude of care and acceptance must be encouraged for us to be internationally recognised as a desirable place to live and work.
Embracing sub-continent freight workers to alleviate the driver shortage in Australia is a win-win solution. Not only can we address the critical shortage in our freight industry, but we can also enrich our society through diversity and inclusion.
- Peter Anderson is the CEO of the Victorian Transport Association.