September 19, 2019

Owner-Driver column: We need radical change

Frank Black, September 2019

 

Trucking is no longer a desirable career, and this is going to have a significant impact on the industry and those who rely on our services.

I’ve been a truck driver for 30 years. I’ve owned my own truck for all this time. But it’s not a career I could sincerely recommend to a young person looking for a career in transport. It has been a constant battle, with constantly changing ridiculous rules and regulations. It never improves.

My son-in-law considered entering the industry and we talked about what it’s like to be an owner-driver. Of course, I was honest with him. I told him what it entails: long hours away from home, a constant battle to get a decent rate, the worry of not knowing when the next job will come if you don’t manage to nab a sustainable contract. We’re in the hands of short-sighted law enforcement and we always cop the blame. My kids have seen me go to court to fight ridiculous fines for insignificant breaches and lose, even though the circumstances of the job precluded me from staying within the letter of the law.

Needless to say, my son-in-law now has a handyman franchise.

The state of the industry is turning people away before they even jump in the cab. It’s no wonder there’s a driver shortage whether it be employed drivers or owner/drivers.

As a nation we need to look to the future, and I don’t mean driverless trucks, artificial intelligence or robots taking over the planet. The truth is we don’t know what technological advancements freight is headed for, or what those advancements might require of workers. What we do know is that Australia relies on us to stack the shelves with food and medicine, to move the cement that supports our houses. You name it, a truck driver has more than likely played a part in getting it to where it needs to be. What will happen to Australia if trucking crumbles altogether? Do we have a solution for an industry without workers in 20 years-time?

With such a vital role to play, the trucking industry should be pulling in fresh meat. There’s an abundance of untapped potential in Australia; young people, migrants, women. But without an industry that can offer a decent living it’s no surprise there’s no queue of people beating down the cab door.

It wasn’t always like this. When I joined the industry, you could just do your job and get paid for all of it.

A mechanic by trade, I made the decision to buy my own truck. Back then, you could make a dollar. It still could’ve been better, but the industry was a lot fairer.

Over time, the financial squeeze has grown. Increasing costs have not been compensated and rates have swung too far in the wrong direction.

When I was starting out, there was a great sense of camaraderie amongst truckies. Everyone looked out for one another on the road or in the yard. As time has gone on, I’ve seen people under more and more pressure and it’s chipped away at the solidarity we shared, and this pressure also flows on to the family unit. Long periods away from home and low income can start to cause pressures within relationships, just look at the relationship break downs in our industry.

The burden is on us to carry the industry as well as the goods, and times are tough. As always happens when the lower economic workers are put under even more stress, we’ve begun to turn on each other. We’re so busy fighting over how the industry should change, we’re preventing change from happening.

Laws have got tighter and are unfairly skewed towards targeting drivers. It’s easy to single out a truck driver, pull him over and find something to fine him for. We’re powerless alone.

Regulation should be concentrated on those with the money and the influence to affect real change. Clients at the top need to take responsibility for the transport they rely on and spread the wealth. But these things won’t just happen. We need to make sure that they do.

The industry needs to unite to address the previously mentioned issues if we are to return to the great industry it once was, if we want to make this an industry one that people are attracted to. Industry associations need to stop just looking at a select few and worry about the industry as a whole, from the yard to the client at the top.

 

Frank Black has been a long distance owner-driver for more than 30 years. He is the current owner-driver representative on the ATA council.

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