Foreign overseas truckies could be recruited to address a critical shortage of local truck drivers.
The Sunday Telegraph, by Jim O’Rourke, 4 January 2014
An ageing workforce and a negative image created by high-profile fatal accidents and police crackdowns on dodgy trucking companies is leading to a critical shortage of truck drivers.
Reports of drivers breaking speed limits, semi-trailers caught with major defects and heavy vehicles smashing into motorway tunnels, are turning potential recruits away, the industry concedes.
In 2013, 56 people in NSW were killed in crashes involving a heavy truck.
Now, the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) is so worried that the $18 billion a year road freight industry will be crippled, it has appealed to the federal government to allow foreign drivers to cover shortages.
And on the eve of tougher fatigue rules for drivers, employers also want government help with recruitment campaigns to attract more young drivers into the ageing workforce.
In a submission to the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, which provides advice to the government on how to tackle skill shortages, the ATA asked that heavy vehicle driving be added to the migration Skilled Occupation List, so overseas drivers can apply for a 457 work visa.
The ATA also said the truck driver workforce is ageing. The average age of a truckie is now 43.
By 2016, close to 20 per cent of drivers will be at retirement age.
The submission said that the heavy vehicle industry is "under pressure from severe driver shortages and a negative image problem".
"Challenging and changing the negative images portrayed by the media about the heavy vehicle industry is important in order to attract new entrants to the industry," the submission said.
The ATA said a lack of family life/work balance, health problems and limited training opportunities are also barriers to recruiting young people.
ATA National Policy Manager David Coonan said while the industry makes attracting and training young drivers a priority, it is not meeting driver shortages.
"The ATA recommends that the federal government change the Skilled Occupation List to include heavy vehicle drivers in order for temporary, competent foreign drivers to supplement the Australian workforce," Mr Coonan said.
Ben Allen, is 23 and loves working for as a casual driver for Farey's Transport in Wagga Wagga.
His boss, Des Harris, said Ben, who also works as a nurse, is one of the firm's most conscientious employees.
"I have always loved the big trucks and I tell the other boys here that I come to work to get my driving 'fix'," Ben said.
"It's a great career and having my heavy vehicle licence is something that I can always fall back on."
Concerns of a driver shortage come as new national fatigue regulations, starting on February 10, give trucking companies more flexibility to ask drivers to work longer hours, if the hours are offset by extended rest breaks.
As part of the new National Heavy Vehicle Law, drivers who have completed an accredited "advanced fatigue management" (AFM) course can work up to 15.5 hours a day. That time includes time for loading and unloading at depots.
Drivers with AFM must take one extended break of at least seven hours.
Figures from the NSW Centre for Road Safety show that fatigue is a contributing factor in about 16 per cent of fatal accidents involving heavy vehicles.