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ATA pleas to make foreign truck drivers eligible for 457 visas to aid severe shortage.

FOREIGN overseas truckies could be recruited to address a critical shortage of local truck drivers.

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.

 Courtesy of Jim O’Rourke – Transport Reporter – The Sunday Telegraph

Administrator’s note:

This has been a problem for some time now, since truck drivers are at Skill Level 4, which is outside the allowable RSMS visa skill Level 1-3 range which was introduced  in 2012.

Whilst it is good to see that the ATA is seeking to recruit young employees, this industry appears to  suffer from the same image problem as other ‘trades’. Young workers are being told of work life balance and are looking for jobs that suit their circumstances and on the whole don’t appear to be prepared to ‘tough it out’ to get ahead.

As a result, because Australia has an ongoing demand for consumer products Australia wide, the show must go on regardless of the changing level of work-place expectation and the 457 visa solution – whilst unpalatable to some- may be the only answer. For how long will be a matter for the government and the industry to resolve.

If 457 visas are to be used to meet this increasing shortage, what must be regulated is the level of driver skill,  compliance with market salary levels and the attitude of some employers to overlook or even ignore these issues to meet such short-term difficulties once 457 visas have been granted.  As usual it will be a matter of strict compliance combined with meaningful sanctions to reflect the potential disaster if insufficiently skilled drivers are let loose on the nation’s roads.