Could the trucking industry hire foreign drivers?

trucking-industryAccording to the Australian Trucking Association (ATA), the trucking industry is in the midst of a skills shortage.

As a result, the ATA has appealed for the Australian government to allow at least 457 foreign drivers eligible for work visas related to the trucking industry, an effort that would help account for the shortage.

Reasons for the shortage

According to the ATA, the main reasons behind the skills shortage include an ageing workforce, the controversy of high-profile fatal accidents involving heavy trucks, and a growing number of police crackdowns on truck drivers found breaking road rules. This, according to the ATA, has created a poor image for the industry and consequently driven potential truckers away.

With fears the shortage could cripple the $18 billion dollar a year industry, the ATA has asked the government to allow foreign drivers to fill in the current void left by those truckers that have walked away. Currently, truck driving is not listed as part of the applicable skills in the Skilled Occupation List that foreigners seeking a work visa need to cater to.

As it currently stands, the ATA’s request to the federal government is still under review.

Criticisms

Of course the ATA’s request was not going to be without criticism. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) has voiced suspicion over the true motives of the ATA. Chief among the union’s suspicions is that the ATA’s request has nothing to do with a skills shortage, but rather the industry’s refusal to offer Australian-based truck drivers an acceptable pay rise. So instead of increasing truck drivers’ salaries, the TWU believes the ATA may be looking for a cheaper labour option.

The TWU’s national secretary, Michael Kaine, referred to Bureau statistics that showed there is plenty of interest in the industry, but the real issue is due to the industry’s poor retention rates and the unrealistic pressure placed on drivers. “The underemployment data at August 2013 shows that 34,500 people were looking for work in transport, postal and logistics,” Mr Kaine told the ABC.

Kaine believes that while there aren’t too many young drivers entering into the industry, the issue is that older, more skilled drivers are leaving due to poor work conditions. At its core, the industry needs to reform itself to allow for fairer and more rewarding conditions.

 

Regardless of the cause, something within the trucking industry does need to change, and hiring foreign drivers isn’t the only viable solution out there. If the industry could go through some changes to make it more appealing to both skilled and eager new drivers, the necessity of taking on foreign drivers may not need to exist. That’s not to say foreign drivers is a poor solution, but the ATA shouldn’t see it as a ‘be all and end all’ fix.

What do you think of the skill shortage in the trucking industry? How do you believe it could be fixed? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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