BACK TO BASICS: Costly driver bungles, like this one in Sydney's M5 East Tunnel, could be avoided.
BACK TO BASICS: Costly driver bungles, like this one in Sydney's M5 East Tunnel, could be avoided. Contributed

Importing drivers is not the answer

IT IS just over a year since the scrapping of the 457 visas but, for the trucking industry, it is "business as usual”.

As the Australian Trucking Association points out, "truck driver” was never a designated occupation covered by the 457 visas.

Yet, in February 2016, it was revealed that a driver, who caused havoc on Sydney roads when he was unable to reverse his B-double truck near the M5 tunnel, entered the country under the 457 arrangements.

And last year's Senate inquiry into road safety and the use of 457s implied the visas were somehow being used in the industry when it recommended, "... the Department of Immigration and Border Protection comprehensively review visa arrangements to address systematic or organised abuse in the transport industry”.

It also recommended "all visa holders with heavy vehicle driving licences undergo driver skill tests before their heavy vehicle driving licences are recognised in Australia”.

While the 457s may not have cited truck drivers, operators have been able to enter specific "labour agreements” to bring in drivers from overseas, and this scheme continues.

Even with the labour agreements, there is still a massive shortage of drivers, exacerbated by the inability to attract young people to an industry where the average age is 47 years.

While some operators point to insurance companies being unwilling to cover drivers under 25 years of age, the ATA says the shortage has more to do with the industry image.

"In 2016, a Volvo Group Australia white paper found 52 per cent of trucking industry employers had issues attracting the number of drivers needed, 82 per cent had issues attracting the quality of drivers needed and 46 per cent were experiencing a shortage of available drivers,” ATA communications adviser Emily Mills said.

"The survey also found the shortage of quality drivers was strongly influenced by the public image of the profession, decreasing its attractiveness.

TWU acting national secretary Michael Kaine.
TWU acting national secretary Michael Kaine.

"Both the Volvo research and the ATA market research support the notion that driver shortage is primarily due to the image of the industry and image of truck driving as a career.

"By improving the professionalism of the industry, strengthening driver training it would make driving more, not less, attractive as a career.”

Volvo research also found only 15 per cent of drivers were younger than 30, only 24 per cent of companies hired female drivers and the average age of a truck driver was 47 years.

The Transport Workers' Union has called for a national training scheme, along with "fair and decent conditions” to fill the vacancies rather than importing drivers.

"An industry-wide training scheme should be set up, paid into by clients and employers, whereby drivers can get industry- wide standard skills training,” TWU acting national secretary Michael Kaine said.

"They should be also trained on their rights at work, to ensure against exploitation and wage theft.

"This (importing drivers) is already leading to a race to the bottom in transport, whereby overseas drivers are being exploited and their safety and the safety of other road users is put at risk, as the M5 tunnel incident shows.

"What is happening is that overseas workers are becoming truck drivers by other means - through 'dependent' visas, whereby an individual can obtain full working rights as a partner of a person on an Australian temporary visa, or through student visas.”

The ATA has also called for better training, including a supervised hours requirement.

"The standard of training and supporting assessment is often inadequate,” Ms Mills said.

It all points to an industry struggling with the same issues it had a year ago, just as major changes to Chain of Responsibility laws are due to take effect from October.

From then, anyone named in the chain has a responsibility to ensure heavy vehicle national laws for vehicles over 4.5 tonnes gross vehicle mass are complied with and all involved carry a legal liability for their actions or inactions.

According to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator: "In a prosecution, the courts may consider the actions of each party in the supply chain.

"This includes what measures those parties have in place to prevent breaches of the HVNL occurring.

"Each party must demonstrate to the court they took all reasonable steps to prevent the contravention or show the court there were no steps they could reasonably be expected to have taken to prevent the contravention.”

But, according to the TWU, the new regulations will not address the causes of problems in the transport industry "namely the pressure by clients on transport operators and drivers”.

"These pressures lead to drivers forced to speed and drive long hours, trucks not being maintained and exploited and untrained drivers entering the supply chain,” Mr Kaine said.

"Chain of Responsibility laws are designed to deal with the consequences of problems - but don't tackle them before they arise.”

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