Poor attitude towards truck driving causing shortage, says freight body

 

STUFF

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Trucks carrying freight up and down the South Island have been forced to use the inland route, including the Lewis Pass, since the November 14 earthquake destroyed State Highway 1. (File photo)

The national body representing road freight has shot down claims the South Island's alternative highway is causing a truck driver shortage.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley said the industry was short of drivers because truck driving was not given the status it deserved.

Shirley said New Zealand had a long history of not recognising truck drivers' skills, which helped drive the economy.

"It is an entrenched, chronic, long-term problem, and it is not just in New Zealand, it's North America, the UK, all suffering chronic shortage of heavy combination vehicle drivers," he said. 

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People seemed to forget how their "Weetbix and Marmite get to the shelves of the supermarket", Shirley said.

And while the closure of State Highway 1 following the 2016 earthquake had "exacerbated" the issue, the overall shortage was "totally unrelated", he said.

"We had reports where they threw the job in because of the difficulties with that inland route," he said. 

"That did make a serious shortage worse but it certainly wasn't a major cause of the shortage. It's much longer term than that."

Shirley said the number of truck drivers quitting due to the Lewis Pass inland route would be in the dozens, not thousands. 

 

State Highway 1, north of Kaikōura, was closed after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake last year.

The inland route was causing traffic delays due to the number of vehicles travelling the route, speed restrictions in certain areas and ongoing maintenance to the highway. 

Shirley said drivers were expected to work 70-hour weeks, for about $20 an hour, which did not help attract people to the industry. 

He said the education system was "over invested" in students getting into university. 

"It has been ingrained in our education system with this sort of focus on tertiary qualifications.

"We now have far too many lawyers, far too many accountants and far too many policy analysts." 

Tertiary Education Commission chief executive Tim Fowler said the commission worked hard to promote all jobs, particularly those with a shortage of skilled workers, including truck driving.

"We actively encourage truck driving as a career option on our careers.govt.nz website and via our social media channels," Fowler said. 

Shirley said the reopening of State Highway 1, north of Kaikōura, would help, but the underlying issues remained. 

"It will certainly help the freight task ... [but] there will always be disruption", he said.

"We have got the Manawatu Gorge situation now. There will be future slips along the Kaikōura coast and elsewhere given the typography of New Zealand." 

The NZ Transport Agency planned to re-open State Highway 1, north of Kaikōura, in December, restoring the coastal highway link from Picton to Christchurch in time for Christmas travel.

 - The Marlborough Express