Is the trucking industry set to hire foreign drivers?
The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has told the Australian government that the trucking industry is currently in the midst of a skills shortage.
At a recent hearing, the ATA appealed for the Australian government to allow for a minimum of 457 foreign drivers to be made eligible for work visas related to the trucking industry. The ATA believes investment in foreign drivers would help reduce the current shortage issue.
What’s causing this shortage?
According to the ATA, the key reasons behind the skills shortage include factors such as an ageing workforce, the controversy of fatal accidents involving heavy trucks, and an increasing number of truck drivers found breaking road rules by police. Consequently, the ATA believes this has created a poor image for the industry, which is keeping potential local truckers away.
There is fear that the shortage could cripple the $18 billion dollar a year industry. As a result, the ATA has asked the government to allow foreign drivers to fill in the current void. As it currently stands, truck driving is not listed as part of the applicable skills in the Skilled Occupation List that foreigners seeking a work visa can apply to.
For now, the ATA’s request remains under review with the federal government.
It’s understandable that the ATA’s request was not going to be without criticism. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) has voiced its own set of concerns over the true motives of the ATA’s request. The union’s main suspicion is that the ATA’s request has nothing to do with a skills shortage, but rather the industry’s refusal at offering Australian-based truck drivers an acceptable pay rise. The TWU believes the ATA’s request for foreign drivers may be them simply looking for a cheaper labour option.
The TWU’s national secretary, Michael Kaine, referred to Bureau statistics that indicated there is still plenty of interest in the industry, but that the real issue is related to the industry’s poor retention rates and the absurd amount of pressure placed on most drivers. In an interview with the ABC, Mr Kaine noted that “underemployment data at August 2013 shows that 34,500 people were looking for work in transport … and logistics.”
Kaine believes that while it is true there aren’t too many young drivers entering into the industry, the real issue is that older, more skilled drivers are leaving the industry due to unacceptable working conditions. It’s these working conditions that need to be addressed, and the industry as a whole needs to reform itself to become more appealing to both experienced and new drivers.
Regardless of the main cause, something within the trucking industry does need to change, and hiring foreign drivers certainly is not the only viable solution out there for this problem. If the industry could go through some fundamental 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. Looking to foreign drivers isn’t necessarily a poor solution, but the ATA shouldn’t approach it as the only fix.
What steps do you think could be taken to fix the current skills shortage in the trucking industry? Sound off in the comments below.