Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, believes that improvements to living and working conditions could be an answer to the driver shortage

Improving the welfare of drivers living their lives on the road is key to incentivising new workers into the transport industry, according to Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Speaking to FACTS Editor Joe Wyatt at the IRU World Congress 2018 in Muscat, Oman, Cotton discussed how the greater proliferation of safe truck parks with adequate facilities is one way in which the industry could address the driver shortage.

In the driver’s seat

It is no secret that the global transport industry is facing a severe lack of drivers. According to the Road Haulage Association, the UK haulage industry is facing a shortage of between 45-52,000  drivers, with another 35,000 drivers likely to retire in the near future. Research from the American Trucking Associations (ATA) has shown that the U.S. has a similar shortage of around 50,000 drivers. A separate report also showed that the turnover rate of drivers for large trucking companies in the US reached 94% in the first quarter of 2018, marking a 20% annual increase. The issue is felt even more acutely in burgeoning economies, with Brazil facing a shortage of more than 100,000, for example. With the vast majority of goods travelling via the road transport network at some point in their journey, to say that trucking is the lifeblood of international trade is far from an understatement. Thus, a deepening driver shortage could lead to a future economic crisis.

As General Secretary of the ITF, Stephen Cotton represents a global union federation of 677 trade unions representing 16.5 million workers in 149 countries in the seafaring, port, road, rail, tourism and aviation sectors. He believes that raising the standard of living for HGV drivers whilst out on the road would be instrumental in shoring up the driver shortage and protecting future economic growth.

“How can we have a sustainable economy if we do not have the means to supply that economy?” said Stephen. “Truck drivers are very much part of the global supply chain but they need to be able to put their heads down somewhere safe and secure when taking their rest breaks [if that is to continue].”

Improving driver safety and security will be key to improving working conditions for transport workers and simultaneously minimising losses for employers. Cargo loss data for 2017 produced by the Transported Asset Protection Association’s Incident Information Service revealed an almost 90% year-on-year rise in the number of freight thefts which occurred when trucks parked in unsecured locations in Europe. The over 2000 recorded cargo crimes in 2017 also accounted for the majority of the €105 million of products stolen from supply chains in the Europe, Middle East and Africa.

In response to the question of the cost of improving driver conditions to the organisation which is paying for the cargo to be moved, Stephen emphasises that both commercial organisations and governments have a responsibility to care for drivers.

“Making sure that drivers not only have a place to rest but a safe place where they can benefit from ‘proper’ rest is so important,” he said. “Our research has shown both poor and negative practices here. Some operators set out a clear route which takes into account the need for a secure place for drivers to rest; others do not. I think governments have a responsibility for this too.

“Ultimately, easy crime is easy crime for members of society that society has lost. Thankfully, most trucking is not subject to major serious crime, but vandalism and theft are regular occurrences. The ITF continues to work with the International Road Transport Union to make sure there are more secure truck parks where there are safe places to park, sleep and have a warm, healthy meal.” Sufficient clean toilet facilities are also a key issue of contention.

“If you care about your workers, clean toilets and showers are essential,” commented Stephen. “The point of gender is important here too; if you want to access the skills that women could bring to the industry and treat them fairly and equitably, having both male and female toilets that are clean is the bare minimum. It is about creating an environment that whatever their needs are, they are catered for.” Stephen concluded: “The supply chain will continue to be put under greater and greater duress if no solution to the driver shortage is found.”

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