Truck drivers need to earn their wages!

To justify higher wages truck drivers need to take more responsibility to ensure that their vehicle is more productive and safe on the road.

I was saddened to see the violence and destruction of vehicles that occurred during the recent truck drivers’ strike.

However, I was pleased to see that truck drivers got their salary increase. After investigating the salaries that some of the lower paid drivers earned, there was definitely a justified reason for them to demand an increase. The agreement by transport operators to pay their truck drivers a salary increase should not be one sided; drivers have to be told that to earn more money it is necessary that they be more responsible and productive.

Drivers must understand that they play a vital role in determining the variable operating costs of the vehicle, and to justify a salary increase they need to be more conscientious about lowering operating costs. Truck drivers are able to lower operating costs by driving in a professional manner and ensuring that their vehicle is in a safe and fit condition before embarking on a trip.

The agreement to increase driver’s salaries should stipulate that drivers must complete a documented pre-trip inspection report – by checking their vehicle professionally before every trip to ensure that it is safe to operate, and that there is no evidence of fluid leaks or tell-tale signs that indicate the likelihood of a costly roadside vehicle breakdown. Drivers should also drive their vehicles in a professional manner to obtain optimum fuel consumption and low maintenance and tyre costs.

Another concern that I have is the way that many truck drivers’ salaries are structured, especially in some of the long distance operations where drivers are paid a very low basic salary plus a remuneration for distance travelled during the month.

This method of determining the driver’s salary often leads to drivers pushing themselves way beyond their physical capabilities. Many of these drivers have to drive approximately 14 hours a day to earn a livable salary, and during a recent discussion with a long distance driver he told me that his basic salary was so low that to earn a reasonable wage he drove 19 hours a day.

Driving a heavy duty truck for 14 hours or more a day is possible for a short period when the driver is young, but eventually fatigue overcomes the driver and he falls asleep while driving, or loses concentration and is involved in an accident. Besides the danger to other road users a large rig that is out of action for a lengthy period can have a very negative effect on the transport company cash flow.

Many long distance operators have gone out of business due to their vehicles not being available, especially if more than one vehicle at a time is in the panel shop being repaired. Remember that while the vehicle is off road no income can be earned from that vehicle but all the vehicles fixed costs still have to be paid. These include costly repayments to the bank, insurance fees, driver’s wages and others.

One of the challenges of operating heavy duty trucks in long distance operations is that presently in South Africa transport tariffs are extremely low and operating costs are continually rising, resulting in pressure on the operator’s profit margin. To counter-balance these low tariffs and rising costs operators endeavour to maximise the kilometres travelled by their vehicles. The more kilometres travelled, the higher the income, and fixed operating costs remain constant irrespective of the distance the vehicle travels, therefore more profit is generated.

To reduce the unacceptably high accident rate on our roads, I urge long distance road transport operators to examine and restrict the driving hours of their drivers without rest periods. In addition, to motivate and train them to become more professional drivers.

 


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for 45 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel, 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.

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