Opinion

Compliance and vaccine mandates crippling operators

The Australian road freight industry is one of the most regulated sectors in the world, with three tiers of government applying various levels of oversight to how operators go about their business. Regulation is for the most part well-intentioned, with the industry understanding some degree of oversight is required to maintain high standards in areas such as safety, emissions, and community amenity.

The Covid pandemic has introduced new levels of compliance to transport in the interests of containing its spread. The VTA has advocated for sensible and uniform measures to minimise supply chain disruptions.

However, onerous compliance measures and vaccine mandates for freight workers are wreaking havoc on road transport operators, according to a survey we recently conducted.

The VTA queried more than 75 small, medium and large operators carrying freight on a range of issues that have emerged during the pandemic to understand how regulatory adjustments might assist the industry.

The survey offered a timely insight into the sentiments of the road freight industry.

Among the key findings, 84 per cent of operators said Covid restrictions had negatively impacted their business, 62 per cent have lost an average of 4 per cent of their drivers because of mandatory vaccinations, with one operator surveyed losing half his drivers, 95 per cent of operators are experiencing a shortage of drivers, with nearly 1800 vacancies in the responding companies alone, and 90 per cent said they would support regulatory changes enabling 18-year-olds to be trained to attain a heavy vehicle licence.

The findings echo what we’ve been expressing for months and unless action is taken to help industry attract new drivers, supply chains would continue to be vulnerable. When 95 per cent of operators say they can’t find enough drivers, it confirms more needs to be done by governments in partnership with industry to recruit people.

Victoria’s heavy vehicle licencing system is broken and we need urgent action to attract young people to our rapidly ageing profession.

Nine in 10 operators said they would support a licencing regime that would professionally train and employ 18-year-old school leavers to drive a heavy vehicle. The government must act on this information, or the shortage will get worse as older drivers retire, with the inevitable consequences being higher consumer prices.

I’ve long said that if you can pilot a plane at 16 and fight in the armed forces overseas at 18, there’s no reason an 18-year-old couldn’t be trusted behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle after extensive training and instruction.

Losing an average 4 per cent of drivers is the last thing an operator needs in the middle of a labour shortage crisis. Vaccine mandates that have driven some out of the profession underscores our industry’s urgent need for licencing reform to attract young, new people to freight and logistics.

The survey also queried respondents about their environmental policies at a time when the national conversation about emissions reductions is fever-pitched. Three-quarters (76 per cent) of operators have an environmental policy in their business and 82% would support regulatory changes to encourage low emission heavy vehicles.

The quickest way to reduce heavy vehicle emissions is to incentivise operators to replace their fleets with vehicles that have lower emitting Euro 5 and 6 engines.

Respondents were also asked about the three biggest issues they would face next year with labour availability (96 per cent), costs and rates management (62 per cent) and fuel pricing (50 per cent) the most pressing for freight operators.

As we come to the end of another challenging year, it is certainly encouraging that jurisdictions are opening, restaurants and shops are trading again, and people are enjoying their freedoms. However, as the emergence of the Omicron strain of the virus has demonstrated, Covid will be with us for some time, and its important measured regulation is applied as we live with the virus so that supply chains don’t collapse.

It has been a privilege have this platform to communicate the views of the VTA with drivers and operators that are at the coalface of our industry every day over the past year. I wish you a very safe and happy Christmas and look forward to continuing the important conversation about the road transport industry with you next year.

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