Sleeping with the enemy?

In what is probably a first in business-to-business publishing, FOCUS has embarked on a unique joint project with rival publication, Truck & Bus. Astute readers will notice that a near-identical article appears in both magazines this month. Turn to page 34 and you will be able to read the piece, which pertains to training and to the Transport Education and Training Authority (TETA) specifically.

The controversial article was penned by Richard Macaskill, the 2008/09 SA Guild of Motoring Journalists’ (SAGMJ’s) commercial vehicle bursar. The bursary programme is sponsored by Hino in the interests of encouraging young journalists to enter the field of transport journalism. This feature is the culmination of Macaskill’s year as the SAGMJ’s roving trainee commercial vehicle reporter.

The story covers a variety of different aspects relating to TETA, including the trucking and transport industries’ views of the organisation. “My article aims to get to the bottom of the great displeasure expressed by the transport community,” explains Macaskill.

As is the case in so many other industries, companies within the road freight sector are hard pressed to show a profit. They are watching each and every cent they’re spending. Naturally therefore, the TETA levies are a massive area of concern to all companies within our industry. They want to know that theirmoney is being well spent. Justin Haler, editor of Truck & Bus, explainsthat, as a magazine editor, he receives considerable feedback from readers. “Onequestion that kept cropping up from Truck & Bus readers was: ‘Where does the levy that I pay to TETA go and what is it used for?’

That motivated me to commission an article on TETA, and, with serendipity, the SAGMJ’s bursary winner, Richard Macaskill, had been seconded to us. What better a challenge for a rookie?” he points out.

The most unusual decision to cooperate with Truck & Bus was taken in the interests of raising standards within the industry. Training is needed quite desperately – the skills crisis is one of the greatest challenges that our industry faces. We normally fight tooth and nail to pip rival magazines to the  post when it comes to breaking news and editorial exclusives.

However, I believe that this issue is so important that we were more than happy to ‘share’ the article with Truck & Bus. If the levies are more effective in the long run and training standards are raised as a result, then we will have succeeded in our goal.

Healthy competition is all very well, but we have the best interests of the industry at heart.

GLOBAL REACH

I had to smile when I received this photograph, all the way from Lyon, France. This young man’s name is Gaspard Brendel, and his dad, Pierre-Alain, is in charge of media relations at Renault Trucks.

According to Pierre-Alain, the apple of  his eye (a mere two years and 10 months old) was utterly delighted with our feature on Renault’s Cape to Cape expedition, which concluded in Cape Town this month. We reckon young Gaspard must be our youngest reader ever!

FUN AND GAMES IN PE

As this issue of FOCUS was about to go to press, I dashed down to Port Elizabeth to attend a sod-turning ceremony for General steering column

Motors South Africa’s (GMSA’s) new partsdistribution centre. Regular readers will knowthat I am a great fan of ‘good news’ stories– and this certainly was one; the company isinvesting R250 million in this centre, a bold move indeed given the pathetic vehicle sales that plague our industry.

According to John Astbury, GMSA after-sales vice president, the 38 000 m2 warehouse aims to optimise storage and logistical operations and accelerate the distribution of parts and accessories to GMSA’s dealers in South Africa, Israel and the SADC region. “Ongoing parts support during and beyond a vehicle’s production life cycle is always a key customer concern.

This investment should provide confidence that we take this seriously and intend providing industry-leading after-sales support for many years to come,” he noted on the day.

Located in the Coega Industrial Development Zone, the facility should be able to service the company’s growing parts and accessories business, which is already worth in excess of R1 billion. Now that the construction worker strike is over, work can begin on the facility, which should be fully operational by October 2010.

The event included the normal pomp and ceremony – with speeches and smiles all round. However, nobody realised that a drama was unfolding behind the scenes. GMSA’s labour issues are a matter of public record and, speaking at the sodturning ceremony, Steve Koch, GMSA president and MD, conceded that the company may well have erred in not negotiating properly with the union prior to recent retrenchments. However, he called on all parties concerned to work together in the future. It is very easy for people to be apprehensive about what’s happening in the automotive business, both locally and internationally; we have 40% excess capacity worldwide. I can understand why organised labour needs to protect the interests of its constituents. But we have got to pull together [and] break down the barriers that exist between the factions,” he urged.

But the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) clearly disagreed. In an open letter to various government officials and the Coega Development Corporation threatening a protracted war, the union said GMSA had an “inhumane and barbaric industrial relations approach”, adding that “General Motors and its anagement remain the worst social parasites”.

It called for a boycott of the sod-turning ceremony (this call went unheeded; the ceremony was attended by the who’s who of local government and business), as well as “full consultation” regarding the parts distribution centre. Quite why GMSA should consult the union is totally beyond me. In establishing the centre, no jobs are being created but none are being lost either.

Finally, the union organised a demonstration at Coega. Alas, it’s the understatement of the century to state that this move was a dismal failure. Whereas the actual ceremony started eight minutes early, the union officials arrived a couple of hours late. No doubt their audience of several seagulls looked on with great amusement… Gaspard Brendel, our youngest reader!

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