Anyone who has worked in trucking for any length of time will be familiar with the frustration and disbelief running through our industry right now. At a point where we think we are going to achieve some real positives, something else comes along to spoil the party.
This year it looks like some genuine progress will be made in getting us to the situation where there is a genuinely national regulator (only in the Eastern States, of course!). What comes along at the same time? The uncertainty and lack of information about the actual implications of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s Order, which kicks in on April 4.
Coincidentally, this is also the day to which the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator has extended the deadline for consultation for truckies in New South Wales, bringing them into line with the 100 km work diary exemption rules for those working under the Basic or Advanced Fatigue Management scheme.
Here we have the NHVR bending over backwards to meet the needs of the 730 operators who have been identified as having to change their working practices by the final cut-off date of May 1. After this date everyone in BFM and AFM has to run a work diary all of the time.
Contrast this with the intransigence and lack of useful information coming out of the RSRT. The amount of instability being caused, as many players hold their fire and wait for the complicated rules and their consequences to play out, and for the dust to settle.
If this wasn’t destabilising enough, we have the prospect of a federal election taking place later in the year, with a lot of talk about a change to the tax structure being on the table. This level of uncertainty means the decision makers who are in contract negotiations on the big contracts, those which will trickle down to affect many smaller operators as swell, are also holding their fire.
Uncertainty, instability, sound familiar? Sounds like business as usual for trucking folk. The recent survey carried out by NatRoad showed the majority of the association’s members do not have a contract for work undertaken for prime contractors.
This would seem to be the definition of instability. This means a large proportion of the industry are running national operations involving millions and millions of dollars worth of equipment moving around on our roads with only, at best, a handshake securing the work.
Having worked in the industry since the seventies, this seems to be a normal state of affairs and experience has taught us to trust these customers, up to a point, and work within these kinds of loose parameters.
We must be eternal optimists, it is probably the first quality needed to run a trucking operation. Many have experienced being dropped, out of hand, by a customer and having to deal with the consequences to cash flow and the fight to find work to fill the gap and keep people in a job.
These experiences are immediately forgotten as we walk into another contractual arrangement, without a contract. We are so desperate for the work we accept their assurances and get stuck into the task.
Why do we continue to do it to ourselves? Does a large section of the trucking industry have an addiction to uncertainty and fear of financial ruin? It would seem the main qualification needed to run a truck is also a form of madness.