FUNDING FOR NEW DRIVERS: Armstrongs Driver Training.
FUNDING FOR NEW DRIVERS: Armstrongs Driver Training. Facebook

Government's idea of how to fix driver shortage

THE Victorian Government has promised $4 million for the training of 800 new heavy vehicle drivers if it wins at November's state election.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews made the announcement after concerns were raised about the lack of truck drivers to carry out works on huge infrastructure programs such as the $6.7 billlion West Gate Tunnel project, where a truck is due to leave the Footscray building site every two minutes.

The new training program will be run in conjunction with the Victorian Transport Association and others with a stake in industry.

VTA chief executive officer Peter Anderson said the industry urgently needed to find ways to attract more people to the industry.

"Heavy vehicle driver training and reforms to licensing are issues the VTA has been advocating strongly on for some time as a further mechanism for attracting new people to the industry and addressing the shortage of skills and drivers that are holding many operators back,” Mr Anderson said.

"In partnership with the Victorian Government, the VTA has provided intensive training for well over 60 new drivers through our Driver Delivery program, which has also been instrumental in putting these drivers in jobs in transport.”

Earlier, the Victorian Minister for Roads, Luke Donnellan, had said the huge program of sate projects was putting pressure on resources and suppliers.

"That's why we're investing in driver training and conducting a major review that will look at how we can attract more young people into the trucking industry,” Mr Donnellan said.

The TWU (Vic/Tas branch) has also welcomed the promise of a new training scheme.

"The TWU has always pushed for and supported measures that improve the skills and job security of truck drivers,” branch secretary and national vice-president John Berger said.

"The fact they commonly double as enhanced road safety measures is a bonus.

"This Andrews Government proposal is a positive step forward for the road freight industry and we look forward to providing input into this new training initiative.”

Victorian Transport Association's chief executive officer Peter Anderson.
Victorian Transport Association's chief executive officer Peter Anderson. Contributed

Victorian infrastructure projects worth more than $30 billion that are under way or being planned have faced the risk of a shortage of suitably qualified and trained heavy vehicle drivers needed during construction.

Projects requiring extensive tunnelling, such as the Metro Tunnel, West Gate Tunnel and the North-East Link, will need at least 600 extra tip-truck drivers to move thousands of tonnes of excavated rubble, on top of the hundreds of drivers required to deliver concrete and other building materials.

About 1.8 million cubic metres of soil and rock is being excavated for the Metro Tunnel project alone, creating an additional 438,000 truck movements through Melbourne over four years of digging.

The TWU said the Victorian State Government's plan, after intense lobbying by the Vic/Tas branch, to introduce minimum mandatory rates for tip-truck drivers would go a long way to attracting more drivers to the industry.

"Owner-drivers and truck driver employees are all too often the victims of contract undercutting and forced into unsafe practices by economic pressures down supply chains,” Mr Berger said.

"This means these drivers will now have a surety of income and, for the first time, a more predictable, long career with a secure future.

"It is very rare that a government will overhaul a payment system for an entire industry, which makes these rates a big win for this union and our tip-truck driver members.”

While there were many challenges facing the industry, Mr Anderson said it was an exciting time to be working in transport in Victoria.

"Our industry is about people, freight and the economy that drives the standard of living we all enjoy,” he said.

"While over the years, at times, as an industry, we have felt left behind, there is now a real focus on our industry and we are encouraged by new infrastructure, a new industry specific department in Freight Victoria, and an economy that is going from strength to strength.”

For a new truck driver to get a heavy vehicle licence in Victoria all they need at the moment is to have a current Victorian car licence, meet medical standards, pass an eye test, and pass minimal levels of heavy vehicle knowledge and skills tests from an authorised trainer.

VicRoads recommends having "enough practice so that your driving skills are adequate”, but since there are no minimum requirements, all that's needed is completion of a five-hour course.

The VTA believes this does not prepare drivers adequately and has called for a heavy vehicle licensing system based on the subsidised intensive eight-day course it runs in conjunction with Armstrongs Driver Training, which delivers more than 60 hours of training, mentoring and behind-the-wheel experience to new drivers.

The urgent need to find new, younger drivers is borne out by ABS data suggesting nearly half of the current workforce in the industry will be 65 or over within 10 years, while freight volumes are expected to double over the same period.

"With so much infrastructure planned and being built in residential areas, people rightly expect that truck drivers working in their communities to have the skills needed to safely navigate the roads,” the VTA said.

"Under the current licensing system in Victoria visitors to Australia can easily get a heavy vehicle permit, provided they met basic visa and car licensing criteria.

"We are concerned that this has created a silent underclass of transport workers being employed by operators that are

desperate for skilled drivers but are starved for choice, and who are possibly vulnerable to underpayment from the few rogue operators out there who are ambivalent about exploiting people who don't know their rights.”

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