Comment: Industry bottom feeders under the microscope

By: Nick Leggett, Road transport CEO

The health and wellbeing of truck drivers and the safety of trucks on our roads is once again under scrutiny as there’s a rump in our industry that continues to play fast and loose with the rules

The health and wellbeing of truck drivers and the safety of trucks on our roads is once again under scrutiny and it’s fair to say that while most operators diligently comply with their obligations and take safety seriously, there’s a rump in our industry that continues to play fast and loose with the rules.


Unfortunately, as with most sectors in society, our industry will forever be judged on the performance of those at the bottom. Think of the impact that the despicable actions of one or two rugby league players have on the credibility of the NRL.

In many respects, judging a whole sport, or in our case, a whole industry, on a few bad eggs is blatantly unfair, but unfortunately, that is the modern-day reality.

As we know, the majority of the industry is ultra-professional, law-abiding, and are key contributors to the ongoing economic success of our country. However, there are a few bottom feeders who will constantly cut corners on safety and compliance and they drag the rest of us down.

Unfortunately, it’s true that what people perceive is usually what they believe, and this is based on what they hear and see around them. Negative publicity of a few transport operators when it comes to unsafe practices and lack of compliance is, therefore, very damaging and undoes so much good work by so many.

No matter what the situation is and what the demands of the freight task are, there is absolutely no excuse for non-compliance to work time rules or operators pushing drivers to drive while fatigued.

New Zealand’s maximum work time rules are pretty liberal when compared with our international equivalents. Thirteen-hour days and 70-hour weeks are longer than what drivers are allowed to do in Australia and the US and significantly out of step with Europe, where drivers are limited to a maximum of 56 hours per week.

It must also be reiterated that these hours as an absolute maximum and should not be treated as a target. Seventy-hour weeks are way beyond what most New Zealanders would consider a reasonable working week.

If 70-hour weeks are the standard, the reality is that we will never attract young people to our industry. For most people, reasonable work-life balance is a key consideration in a career and we risk being left behind by the modern labour market.

To hear stories of drivers carrying around two logbooks—one for the police and one for their boss—to cheat the system is disappointing, to say the least. We all know that road transport is an extremely competitive and tough industry.

RTF also understands that operators need to, where possible, limit costs. However, that does not condone the breaking of rules to do it.

Unfortunately, freight rates have been driven down over the past few decades, which from a NZ Inc. point of view is beneficial to the overall economy. However, as price takers, road transport operators are constantly up against it to make a dollar and reap fair reward for their efforts.

There is no doubt that freight rates will have to rise to ensure the industry is profitable, operators are able to find staff to expand their businesses, and drivers are not expected to work 70 hours a week to make a living.

Driving a heavy vehicle is a highly skilled job, vital to the economy, and despite the Government’s intention to address working visa issues, there will continue to be a chronic driver shortage until we regain our competitiveness in the labour market.

It is, therefore, vital that we all constantly work to push up freight rates and improve the perception of our industry. This will go a long way to help alleviate the fundamental workforce and structural issues that have created the environment for the bottom feeders to drag the rest of us down.

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