Operators need to step up to the plate and pay their drivers more if they are to end the driver shortage crisis, attract new blood and retain staff, according to RHA’s policy chief Rod McKenzie (pictured).
Speaking at the recent Microlise conference, McKenzie threw down the gauntlet to operators, challenging them to do more to improve the image of the industry.
He said: “Let’s start with pay. We all know the cost of living crisis affects everyone. For years, many truckers have rightly complained they were underpaid.
“Some hauliers said: ‘We can’t afford to pay more, our margins are too tight. It’s the supermarkets' fault, or driver agencies.’”
He added: “This becomes a blame game and guess what, it ends up damaging our own industry.”
McKenzie said that this lack of investment backfired on the industry at the peak of the driver shortage crisis last year.
He recalled: “Ministers picked up that theme during the worst of the recent driver shortages and used it as a stick to beat us with.
“It’s true: a race to the bottom in terms of best price to customers that by implication means you are shafting your own staff with low wages is no way to run a business. It’s no way to retain staff,” he said.
McKenzie praised HGV drivers for the heroic role they played during the pandemic and highlighted how quickly their dedication was forgotten.
“How could we have got through the pandemic without trucks?" he asked. "All that medicine, food, essentials. Driven by drivers with an inner determination to deliver for the nation: that’s true public service.
“They faced many obstacles, one of them being one of our most basic human rights – access to a loo. On so-called health grounds some were barred. And food? Forget it.
“Small wonder that many HGV drivers felt like the soldier in Kipling’s famous poem Tommy – not wanted and disrespected in peacetime, suddenly heroes in war, briefly, then not served in the pub afterwards.”
He also called on hauliers to improve the image of their industry and invest in training in order to make role of HGV drivers attractive.
“We need to soak up some of those big training costs – get over the obstacles of insurance for young drivers but we then have to make them want to stay by finding them toilets and decent food – something we all take for granted.”
He warned that the younger generation demand better working conditions than their grandparents and will continue to shun the industry until these improvements are made, adding that any move to attract women will also fail unless these issues are addressed.
“The truth is, we as an industry must respect our drivers. It starts with pay and conditions. We need to listen to them – and their complaints.”
McKenzie acknowledged that change is already happening with many logistics operators already addressing these challenges, supported by £34m of government funding for skills bootcamps and new apprenticeships as well as £52m for improving road side facilities over two years, for which, he said, RHA had campaigned hard.
However, pointing to research which shows the UK is short of 11,000 lorry parking spaces, McKenzie said: “We have got to send a message to Government from the industry that they need to do more.”
He urged delegates to sign the RHA’s petition demanding better facilities for drivers, adding: “There are three things we are asking for and that we would ask you to support. Firstly, change local planning rules to encourage approval not rejection of new truck parking, making it easier for local councils to say yes.
“We want a task force to work with the industry and local authorities on a solution, because a lot of this is about finding and developing sites.
“And we want increased funding to improve the number of safe and secure facilities and tackle the shortfall of 11,000 parking places for HGVs.”
RHA’s petition can be found here: https://www.rha.uk.net/Campaigns/Facilities/Facilities-Petition