Here we are at the beginning of a New Year and we need to think about tackling the big issues, once again. It’s time to take stock and prepare to fight the good fight to keep the right agenda on the table for the trucking industry, at the same time as working to improve the image and standing of trucking in the general community.
Of course, we have perennial issues which will be with us forever. The whole area of safety and keeping people safe at work is a never ending challenge. It is one of those issues which needs constant attention and has the potential to go wrong at any point.
There is always resistance and a tendency among those involved at the ground level to believe the whole safety agenda has gone too far and hinders good work practices. People get frustrated and there is always a lot of talk about the company covering their backsides. This is true, they are, covering the company against the risk of litigation if anything goes wrong. This also has the useful side-effect of reducing injuries, not a bad result.
An ongoing issue which has made life hell for us in the industry is supposed to be diminishing in the future, but we will have to wait and see. The ridiculous inconsistencies in rules and enforcement between the states is slated to disappear when the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator get their collective feet under the table around the nation and genuinely call the shots, when it comes to running the roadside enforcement crews.
We should never underestimate the ability of individual state government, parliament, bureaucrats and others to throw the unexpected spanner in the works, just when the situation is improving. The NHVR seems to be in control of a process to get all of its ducks lined up over the next eighteen months, but the industry’s skepticism is born out of many frustrating years of promised reform getting derailed at the last moment.
The whole issue of remuneration is a sticky one. There are two polar opposites on this issue, but most of the trucking industry sits somewhere in between the two, often pulled in conflicting directions. At one side we have the Transport Workers Union and an ongoing safe rates campaign, coupling road safety with rates and driving.
On the other hand we have a transport industry dominated by a few massive operators, but populated by many thousands of smaller operators who have to be price-takers from the big boys. This leads to a situation where one side is holding down rates for a commercial reason, while the other side is driving up rates to get more of the task handled by the bigger, unionised fleets.
This issue will drag on and on, the TWU has the resources to fight every step of the way, while the big boys keep a low profile. The poor small operator bears the brunt of the issue and has little say in any outcome, little change expected there.
One issue which did get more attention last year, and hopefully will get even more in 2017, is driver perception. This is a very broad topic. On the one hand we are talking about the way truck drivers are perceived out on the road by other road users. It is also about the way drivers are treated within the industry, about getting some respect for their skills and commitment.
As the driver shortage continues and the average age of drivers increases, the smart operators are going to have to come up with more and better ways of making their drivers, working at the coal face, feel a bit more loved and have pride in their profession and abilities. This is going to be a long process, but we need to start making progress on the issue now.