Kerre McIvor
Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Owners in the driving seat

Being a truck driver is stressful and often poorly paid. Photo / NZME.
Being a truck driver is stressful and often poorly paid. Photo / NZME.

A lot of truckies phone talkback. They spend a lot of time on the roads and have only the radio for company, so they're a captive audience.

The men, and occasional women, who have phoned have always had something worthwhile to say. I guess spending so much time on your own also gives you time to think.

But I'll never forget the man who rang one night when we were talking about this country's appalling suicide stats - particularly the numbers of men who take their lives.

I had just finishedtalking to a caller and we'd agreed that one of the advantages of growing older was knowing that life is not a linear trajectory. It has peaks and troughs and if you can get through the tough times, the good times will follow.

My next caller identified himself as a truckie. He'd had a wife and three kids and he worked long hours because he wanted to provide for his family. The hourly rate in trucking isn't great, so if you want to earn big dollars, you have to do the hours.

After a while, his wife got sick of him not being home. Then, when he was home, he was trying to catch up on his sleep and wasn't able to spend quality time with the children.

They split up and now he was working even longer hours to cover his living expenses and the maintenance for his kids. He was sharing a flat with another truckie.

The flat was a dump and he didn't feel he could bring his kids back to it. His wife had moved on with another man but he couldn't afford to go out at nights to meet anyone and even if he did, he'd never take a woman home to his flat.

His voice was flat and he sounded completely without hope. "You tell me," he said, "how my life is going to get better?"

He never phoned me back and I've always worried about him and hoped he found a way out of his despair. It can be a tough life, being on the roads.

So it came as no surprise to hear that hundreds of trucks are parked up around the country every day because there aren't enough drivers to get them moving.

According to the National Road Carriers Association, the sector has been short of drivers for more than 10 years and the situation is about to get worse as the amount of freight is predicted to grow by up to 75 per cent in the next 20 to 30 years.

A strategy has been developed to try to encourage more men and women to get their truck licences and the industry also wants to attract more young people. There's no doubt the big money in Australia contributed to the shortage of drivers in this country. Drivers were getting $700 to $1000 more - a week - driving in Australia and they didn't have to be stuck out in one of the mines to earn that sort of wedge.

Drivers who have returned, came back for family reasons, they told me. When your mum's dying or your wife is homesick, money doesn't matter. But they said the drop in pay took a while to adjust to.

But we can't just blame Australia for poaching our drivers. There's the problem of leaner drivers getting sufficient experience to be able to get a job. It costs thousands to get your heavy truck licence if you go through to your Class 5.

What can be tough for learner drivers is finding a company that is willing to let a newbie get behind the wheel of a $100,000 truck-and-trailer unit and let them have a go.

Truckies told me the industry needs to be willing to take on new drivers and train them, investing in them for the future. And they need to be more accepting of experienced drivers with licences earned overseas.

And surely, if there is a problem with supply and demand, you have to pay people more? We're told that wages come down when there is an oversupply of labour. Surely then, if you have a shortage of labour, wages should go up?

There has been a shortage of truckies for a decade. The industry says that will only get worse. It's up to the industry to fix the problem.

Don't try to lure more people into a job that is stressful, poorly paid and tough on the family.

Invest in drivers, make the job more family-friendly where possible and pay them more.

If the industry respects the people who are the driving force within it, then the parked-up trucks will start rolling again.Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB, weekdays,


- Herald on Sunday

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