Comment: Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum, calls on the Government to support the truck drivers transporting essential goods by road during the alert level 4 lockdown.

How interesting that three of the most vilified groups in New Zealand pre-Covid-19 – farmers, truck drivers and immigrants – are now the ones holding the country's economy together.

Last week, I met with Transport Minister Phil Twyford and his officials from the Ministry of Transport and I spoke before Parliament's Epidemic Response Committee.

The messaging was the same – please recognise the vital work trucking operators and truck drivers are doing; please let the freight chain work as it should without the arbitrary terms of essential and non-essential freight; and how do we get our businesses out of this in one piece – what does life beyond the Level 4 lockdown look like?

Advertisement

I'd like to recognise the truck drivers who are transporting essential goods by road during this Level 4 lockdown.

They are doing jobs they love, but they are more isolated than usual, from their whānau and colleagues. Our economy and well-being are tethered to trucking. My view is that these workers and transport operators have not perhaps had the recognition and thanks they deserve.

Our industry has yet again stepped up to meet need - these are the people who are keeping supermarket shelves stocked, and medicine and equipment going into hospitals and pharmacies. They respond to need in just minutes and they get goods where they need to go.

I have been speaking to many trucking operators since the lockdown began and a lot of them are operating at a loss, because of the arbitrary labelling of freight as essential and non-essential.

Obviously, the longer this goes on, the more businesses will fail and the more people will be unemployed.

Nick Leggett, chief executive of the New Zealand Road Transport Forum. Photo / Janine Baalbergen
Nick Leggett, chief executive of the New Zealand Road Transport Forum. Photo / Janine Baalbergen

It's imperative that transition options be developed before the lockdown ends so that businesses are able to prepare and can position themselves to be as productive as possible on day one.

We have urged the Government to share the scenarios they are working on to move the country out of the Level 4 lockdown.

We have offered to work with them to ensure our vital industry can do its bit to rebuild the economy, and retain jobs, as fast as possible. We are two weeks into a four week lockdown and we need serious strategy and planning now, to emerge successfully on 24 April.

Advertisement

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

We need that information as early as possible to allow for the least painful transition – to keep people employed, and to keep the economy moving on the back of a truck.

Interestingly, we are not alone. Internationally, those representing road freight during this global pandemic are finding the same issues and asking for the same solutions.

IRU (the world's road transport organisation based in Geneva) and the International Transport Workers' Federation have issued a joint statement calling for support from governments and international bodies to ensure international supply and mobility chains remain connected during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The statement sets out the road transport industry's key demands and calls for immediate action to recognise the important contributions to society made by road transport workers and companies, and industry's vital role in responding to, and overcoming, the current coronavirus crisis.

There is definite cross-over with what we are asking for and what they are asking for. You can read the statement here.

Advertisement

I will finish with the words of IRU Secretary General, Umberto de Pretto:

"The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the spotlight on road transport – showing once more the indispensable role road transport companies and their workers play in the movement of essential goods. Support for the continuity and resilience of supply and mobility chains, and the designation of road transport as a key service must be prioritised by governments and international bodies to aid the response and recovery from this crisis."