Industry News

Where does the driver shortage reality actually bite?

Reality certainly does not bite the hand at the top of the chain of responsibility (CoR), or the next few levels down.

A recent Big Rigs article regarding Ron Finemore’s presentation at last week’s Trucking Australia conference in Canberra begs the question:

“Do the pundits that started as owner-drivers, drivers, or even loaders, not remember what it is like on the highway – or do they need a mud map to find their way back?”

Some Facebook groups/pages turned off their commenting when sharing the Big Rigs story.

The groups that didn’t turn off comments achieved some very pointed comments. Some comments showed the reality of experiences on the road, others were simply inflammatory.

Ron Finemore commented that the Austroads’ recommendations – and others on licencing – have been discussed, tentatively agreed upon, discussed again, then seemingly put in the ‘too hard to implement basket’ – just like the many other talkfests that use valuable resources, and end up collecting cobwebs on the shelf.

In the meantime, drivers and other road users are dying, or getting seriously injured.

A sad indictment of the industry today is that so many lives are being lost, yet record amounts of money are being granted for safety initiatives.

Some of the pundits have advocated, for years, for overseas trained and licenced drivers to come here to fill the ever-increasing drivers’ gap. Finemore headed the charge at one point.

Love him or hate him, Ron does have a point. However, we’re not sure how he expects to have drivers now with experience of Australian roads and safety cultures.

There is plenty of noise about “supporting” and “training” drivers, but with approximately 200,000 licensed HV drivers already in our country, we need to ask WHY we still have the shortage, and why we need to import drivers from overseas?

Could it have something to do with our drivers not being adequately compensated/renumerated for the work, knowledge, experience, and risk they have? We need to look at the remuneration for the job tasks compared to the rest of the working world.
Could it have something to do with prices being pushed so low that most operators are just making enough to “cover expenses” but imported drivers are willing to work in conditions that Australian drivers just won’t do – like working 3- or 4-up in the one truck?
Could it be that many companies are happy to train their drivers, but the drivers then take that minimal experience and start their own business? The risks the first business took during the training period are then lost to that business’s ranks and the “new” business can undercut the training company because they don’t have the same expenses that the training incurs.
Could it be that a lot of non-industry business owners, e.g accountants looking for a tax dodge, start small business and lack care and knowledge about trucks and drivers? The care factor being on the bottom line, not how the money is made.
Does this mentality cause or feed into more undercutting of contracts in the industry?

Quick answer: YES to all of the above.

Have the resulting consequences of the ‘safety initiatives’ ever been questioned?

What’s the real reason these recommendations haven’t been implemented?  We need to look at the top of the CoR to where the buck stops and starts – the NTC, the Industry Advisory Group (IAG) and their university modelled recommendations.

Just as a doctor who prescribed multiple medications would be questioned, or investigated, through the Australian Health Practitioners Association (AHPRA) if there is a resulting accident/incident, why isn’t the transport industry’s equivalent bodies held to the same account?

In the transport industry, who monitors the multiple ‘safety initiatives’ and identifies contradications?  Whatever happened to appropriate experience, common sense, comradery, or just plain respect? Legislation, safety initiatives and compliance seem to have happened.

The blame, enforcement and fines always seem to fall at the drivers’ feet. But should it?

The BNH would be divorced by their children and partner if they tried half the safety and compliance BS the drivers now work under.

Is it simply a stealthy way for owners and insurance companies to avoid paying out of their pockets?  That magic piece of compliance paper the driver signs fancifully appears to indemnify the company.

What has the current one-day course to upgrade your driver’s licence taught a driver? It teaches them how to pass a test and little else, certainly not how to drive in the diverse conditions that Australia has, how to identify and manage your fatigue, or how to fill in your work diary.

Some RTOs advertise they teach loading and load restraints too, which is great when they do but it’s something that is not fully learnt without ongoing practical application.

Logbook training is negligible and/or non-existent despite there being 30-pages of convoluted instructions. How can people with English as a second language, or people with literacy issues as many truck drivers have, be expected to understand the complexities and intricacies of the legislation AND the instructions?

If the enforcement officers are getting it wrong, how do we expect drivers to get it right without adequate training?

Another issue with our previously foreign licenced drivers is that they are scared to say “No” to employers. There is a power imbalance that seems to be exacerbated by the growing divide between those brought up in Australia and those that come here for a better life. This includes the drivers being exploited by their own countrymen.

The drivers, foreign or otherwise, cannot be blamed for lack of training, rule interpretation, or ability.  That comes down to the apparently untouchable hierarchy.

How many more years and how many more deaths will we need to have before the lunacy of the HVNL will be simplified?

Changes to the problems are not being implemented, or at least not where they need to be. Since 2015 fatalities have been on a slow increase despite the current safety initiatives being implemented.

According to BITRE stats, in 2015, there were 39 deaths from single vehicle HV crashes, and from multi vehicle crashes, we have assumed just 10 were the truck drivers, so our numbers are quite conservative. This gave us an average of approximately 4.08 deaths per month.

From January 1, 2023, to March 31, 2024, we lost approximately 5.27 drivers per month. Sixty-nine of the deaths identified were from single vehicle HV crashes, so we can safely assume these were our industry brothers, sister, fathers, mothers, etc. We again assumed 10 from the multi-vehicle crashes as a conservative number.

If simplified laws are implemented correctly, it should result in more easily read and interpreted laws and compliance requirements.

The HVNL is currently not being understood on either side of the enforcement v. industry coin – example the yellow pages may not actually need to be pulled out if the driver is his or her own record keeper (NHVL Sect 341(3)).

Drivers are tired of the pundits trying to close the barn doors after the pallets have already fallen off.

How many more years of undercutting and rogue operators will we need to have?  Yes, we did have the RSRT implemented and then had it repealed. In essence, it would have changed the coal face, unfortunately at the death knock the changes made did not make it a fair and equitable coal face.

Greed was always one of the deadly sins when we were growing up and we didn’t think that had changed but people’s avarice certainly has.

Have drivers and their families really just become collateral damage now?

Bored Neurotic Housewives are a passionate group of truckies’ wives and partners doing their bit to lobby for positive changes in the industry.

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The post Where does the driver shortage reality actually bite? appeared first on Big Rigs.

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