Jul

Where are the doctors to treat this illness?

2014-07-08 15:14

There are a lot of ills running through the trucking industry, many of which need urgent medical attention. The problem is that no-one seems to be calling in the doctors. As a result, the illnesses remain, with some getting worse through lack of treatment. One of these illnesses has been spreading quite rampantly with detrimental effects not only on truck drivers but to the efficiency of the industry as a whole.

I refer to time wasted at loading and off-loading points.
Being in daily touch with many drivers out on the road, I am absolutely horrified at the amount of time drivers spend waiting to load and off-load. One driver recently reported being told to get to a loading point at a particular time in the morning. He arrived spot on time – early in fact. However, 18 hours later, he was still waiting to load. He eventually got away 22 hours after arriving. He had wasted an entire day and now had to head off into the night to get the load delivered on time. The fact that the customer kept him waiting for 21 hours before he could start loading didn’t come into the picture. He just had to accept what I feel is blatant ‘abuse’ and then had to ‘put foot’ to get the load delivered. Now if anyone thinks the driver was wide awake and perky when he left, having spent 22 hours doing nothing but resting, forget it. Drivers do not curl up on their bunks and ‘sleep’ the time away while waiting at such points. Loading areas are not quiet, comfortable lay-bys where the birds sing lullaby trucker songs as they flitter from tree to tree. At most of those points there’s not a tree or a bird in sight. They are normally noisy, busy places where drivers have to stay alert to inch forward every so often so as not to lose their place in the queue. Ask any driver who has waited in the queue outside Durban harbour if he was able to fit in a few hours of restful, rejuvenating sleep. He’ll laugh at you. So, after waiting 22 hours, the driver then heads off into the night carrying his load. However, he’s also carrying something else with him. That ‘something’ is called ‘fatigue’ and it is well documented that driver fatigue is one of the main killers on our roads. It’s not the driver or the operator’s fault. It’s the customer’s fault.

That point aside, drivers do not want to spend hours and hours ‘resting’ at their customer’s premises. They want to get the load on their trucks and get it delivered. That’s how they earn their keep; that’s what they do for a living. I cannot speak for that particular driver as I do not know his conditions 2014of employment but many drivers do not get paid for ‘standing time’. So not only is the driver losing out on income but so too is the transport company. In this case, it was nearly a full day’s downtime for the operator where he didn’t earn a cent. That’s crazy you might rightfully say. Why doesn’t he just charge the customer for that? Yeah sure! Do that and he will lose the business. So everyone just sits back and accepts what I feel is total abuse of transport companies and their drivers.

Certainly there are companies which have in place contacts with embrace clauses to cater for such eventualities so as to nurture and maintain a win-win situation. However, these are with the bigger companies and their clients where, indeed, you will come across ‘world-class’ practices in all areas of the relationship. The problem lies among the hundreds of small to medium sized transport companies. It is here that the ‘virus’ is spreading for it is in this highly competitive arena that shippers are able to play one haulier against the other with little consideration given to win-win outcome. As was reported in the recently released KZN Overloading Report for 2013, growth in the movement of freight in South Africa over the years has been significant and in recent years, the majority of growth in land freight has been captured by road. The deregulation of freight transport in the late 1980s, combined with the shortcomings in the rail system were major causes of the migration of cargo from rail to road. This migration resulted in the high growth of cargo movement by road to such an extent that approximately 88% of all goods are currently transported by road in terms of tonnage and approximately 70% in terms of tonne-km.

Certainly this growth has been good news for the trucking industry but it has also brought with it a number of ‘illnesses’ – such as the one described above. The competitive nature of the industry combined with lower margins brought about by an avalanche of increased costs – fuel, for example, has risen by 11% a year over the past three years and now accounts for 40% of operational costs – has turned the ‘good times’ into hard times for many operators. This is not the time to exploit and abuse transporters. Rather, ‘shippers’ should be paying closer attention to arriving at a ‘win-win’ relationship with their hauliers because as I see it, there is total ignorance of the operational aspects of trucking companies by their clients and ‘shippers’. Ignoring any kind of sickness is foolish. It could lead to death.

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