5 things NZ truck drivers face every day...

Why be a truck driver? Who'd want to be a truck driver today, what's the attraction?

What are we doing in NZ to encourage young people to want to drive trucks?

5 things truck drivers in New Zealand face every day...

1. Crazy start/finish times and really long shifts

Trucks move stuff around 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. Much of what's moved between large cities is done at night, so the goods can be ready to deliver the next morning. Drivers are often required to start early in the evening, then drive through the night, or start in the early hours of the morning, so they can start delivering in another town several hours drive away.

Common shift patterns are; 3x 12 hour days, 3x 12 hour nights, 3 days off. Or, 4x 14 hours days and 1 day off. However, many more operate 12+ hours per shift for 6 days straight, then straight back into it after their legally enforcable 24 hour break. Weekends and a social life are not a reality for many truck drivers. Some work even longer hours, illegally, just to get the work done, or to earn enough to survive.

Truck drivers in NZ are legally required to maintain work time log books, which are supposed to help manage fatigue. However, many drivers are required to utilise every last minute of the allowable work time, every day. They're then expected to rest and sleep at odd hours, often during the day, or away from home, when the rest of the world is being as noisy and disruptive as they choose, blissfully unaware of shift workers trying to rest.

Does that sound like an attractive career proposition to you?

2. Constant threat of legal action

Other than the general NZ Police force, there are no less than two specialist Police enforcement agencies monitoring and enforcing the activities of truck drivers going about their work.

NZ Police Highway Patrol

NZ Police Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit

Truck drivers in NZ potentially face prosecution if they:

Incorrectly fill in their work time log book

Work additional hours outside what is allowable in their work time log book

Fail to take a legal work time breaks, as per log book requirements

Fail to secure their loads correctly

Exceed legal vehicle and/or combination carrying capacity

Exceed a legal axle load capacity

Exceed a legal axle group load capacity

Incorrectly load dangerous goods

Fail to ensure the vehicle and its load stays within legal dimensions

Drive their truck over a legal road speed limit

Drive their truck on a road that the vehicle is not permitted to travel

Breach vehicle load or dimensions permit conditions

I'm sure there are many more too... you get the picture

Wow, imagine if you could get legally prosecuted, just for making a mistake at work.

3. Sharing the roads with over confident and/or incompetent drivers

Every single truck driver in New Zealand has a story about the 'near-miss'. Some, unfortunately didn't get missed, and have to carry the traumatic memories with them forever. Some don't recover from that. Most have several stories, and many truck drivers see crazy things on the roads almost everyday. It can be terrifying, it wears you down, and it stresses you out.

The knowledge, skills, and patience required to operate a heavy vehicle in NZ are not acquired overnight, or at a one-day paper or digital based training course. And to operate heavy combination vehicles requires even greater skills. Whilst the NZ transport industry is occasionally guilty of placing drivers without the required knowledge or skills behind the wheel, it's nearly always a car or light vehicle that is doing something crazy, unhelpful, or dangerous around them.

It could be the campervan that's just decided to start overtaking you at the end of a passing lane, leading into a blind corner, or the van that's just jumped into the space you've left as a safety margin ahead of you, or the cars that keep driving or stopping behind you whilst you're trying to reverse into a location, or the ute that's heading straight for you, on your side of the road, whilst overtaking a truck over double yellow lines, or, or, or....

Not really sounding that attractive as a career option for a young person, what do you reckon?

4. Stress, Pressure and Fatigue

If the challenges above are not enough to pile on the stress, pressure and fatigue...

Truck drivers also have to deal with:

Unruly despatchers

Unreasonable customers

Physical injuries and personal safety issues

Traffic delays

Family pressures

Missing out on family events and milestones

Lack of sleep

Difficulty eating well

Finding places to park to acquire decent food

Horrible weather

Dangerous roads

Breakdowns and flat tyres

And so on...

Ok, maybe if the pay was really good and I got to go home evenings and weekends...

5. Completely unreasonable pay rates

The image above is most likely business owners or customers, definitely not truck drivers.

Considering all of the above, it would be fair to expect that people facing those challenges (and more), just by turning up for work each day, should be earning really good money.

This is not even the case, and has not been for many years now. For some reason, even though they provide the lifeblood of our society, the transport industry, and us as a society, treat truck drivers with disdain, and pay them the bare minimum we can get away with. We're now reaping what we've sowed. Less and less people want to drive trucks for a living.

I was talking to a guy recently that works for a log transport company, he operates a 45 tonne truck and trailer unit. This can be a dangerous job and requires solid skills and experience. He starts at 1am in the morning and works until around 3pm the following day, or as much as his logbook will allow. He works 4 days on and has 1 day off, so he very rarely sees a day off over a weekend. For this he's paid around $16 NZD per hour. That's barely above minimum wage, or about the same as he might get working as a labourer, or at a fast food outlet.

I think that's just taking the piss. Companies that have such low respect for their truck drivers should take a long hard look at what they're up to. It's transport operators like that, that are a real part of the reason why the whole industry finds it difficult to attract new drivers.

We constantly hear that skilled truck drivers are impossible to find, and that the industry is struggling to attract new or young people to the profession. No kidding, what do we expect? There is regular talk of industry initiatives and task forces etc. but none are properly prepared to address the 'elephant in the room'. Fair pay and respect for a fair days work.

Right now, you'd have to be seriously keen on trucks, completely nuts, or not too smart, to want to drive trucks for a living in New Zealand.

If you're a truck driver right now, you deserve more, much more.

You're no doubt highly skilled and face a range of serious challenges every day, just to do your job. Ask for more, you're worth it.

Airline pilots are essentially drivers, yet for some reason we as a society hold them in high regard. We require them to undergo intensive and ongoing training, ensure that they properly manage fatigue, and we compensate them very well for their efforts. Why do we treat truck drivers any different?

The reasons I keep hearing are; "Customers don't want to pay more for their stuff"

Or, "the shareholders demand continued growth, less costs, and higher profits"

Is this really true, or is it just an excuse? How much is enough?

Perhaps some businesses don't know when enough is enough. Perhaps they don't know how to work on improving what they have. Why do they just have to grow, and grow, at any cost?

Are there really that many people out there that truly want more and more just for themselves? Do they truly want more and more at the expense of the quality of life of others, their employees and suppliers? Are we really, as a society, that mean spirited and greedy? Really?

We in the transport industry, and as a society globally, have created this situation, and it will not be easy to resolve. And it's not just truck drivers that are in short supply. The same attraction and retention issues are hampering a wide range of skilled occupations here in NZ and around the world. Tinkering around the edges with fancy new trucks and shiny bits for the magpies, to try and entice or retain good drivers, is not addressing the issues. Autonomous trucks are not the answer just yet, nor will they ever be entirely. But we have to start somewhere...

The continuous growth model will become unsustainable, once brave business owners that care about people, choose to spread the benefits earned by their businesses more fairly. Strangely enough, soon after, skilled truck drivers may 'magically' be easier to find and retain. Good luck.

Maybe you're the one who owns or runs a business, that's brave enough to make the change.

I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much your business benefits from the change in attitude. And you'll also find that the better quality staff you attract suddenly makes your business a pleasure to own and run, rather than the constant stress and drama it might be now.

I'm also sure that you will be as much or even more satisfied with your own personal returns, both financial and emotional. Be the change, make the change, do it now...

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