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Peter Anderson

VTA calls for heavy vehicle licensing review

July 2018

Victorian infrastructure projects worth over $30 billion that are underway or being planned could be at risk from a shortage of suitably qualified and trained heavy vehicle drivers needed during construction.

Projects requiring extensive tunnelling like the Metro Tunnel, West Gate Tunnel and the North-East Link will need at least 600 extra tip-truck drivers to move thousands of tonnes of excavated rubble, on top of the hundreds of drivers required to deliver concrete and other building materials.
Around 1.8 million cubic metres of soil and rock is being excavated for the Metro Tunnel project alone, creating an additional 438,000 truck movements through Melbourne over four years
of digging.

The Victorian Transport Association (VTA) has thrown its support behind these projects, but is concerned under-trained drivers who may not understand road rules and national heavy vehicle law will fill the shortage.

This has prompted our renewed calls for a review of the state’s heavy vehicle licencing processes in a bid to improve skills and training, lift safety standards and attract young drivers to the industry. As an industry, we need urgent reform to our heavy vehicle licensing system to improve qualifications and safety standards through the introduction of skills-based training that will embed the necessary competencies and capabilities into drivers. Such measures will help reduce the shortage of drivers by attracting young people to the industry who are looking for a career in a safe and attractive workplace as a professional truck driver.

Under the current system the bar has been set too low for getting a heavy vehicle driver license, and we have genuine concerns licenses are being issued to drivers who do not have the necessary skills and abilities to safely operate larger trucks that are increasingly complex. For a new truck driver to get a heavy vehicle license in Victoria all they need is to have a current Victorian car license, meet medical standards and pass an eye test, and pass minimal levels of heavy vehicle knowledge and skills tests from an authorised trainer. VicRoads recommends having ‘enough practice so that your driving skills are adequate’, but since there are no minimum requirements for this, all that’s needed is completion of a five-hour course.

We feel this underprepares drivers for the heightened safety risks that are a product of the growing freight task, greater road congestion and soaring population growth.

Improvements to our heavy vehicle licensing system could by modelled on the subsidised intensive eight-day course the VTA runs in conjunction with Armstrong’s Driver Training that provides over 60 hours of training, mentoring and behind the-wheel experience to new drivers.
A major focus for the VTA – and indeed other transport industry groups – is promoting a culture of professionalism to help attract young people to a rewarding and lifelong career in transport.

The present shortage of drivers is also a function of the aging population, and with ABS Labour Force Survey data suggesting nearly half of the current workforce in the industry will be 65 or over within 10 years, and with freight volumes expected to double over the same period, the urgency of attracting young, skilled people to the industry has never been greater.

With so much infrastructure planned and being built in residential areas, people rightly expect that truck drivers working in their communities have the skills needed to safely navigate the roads. Under the current licensing system in Victoria visitors to Australia can easily
get a heavy vehicle permit, provided they meet basic visa and car licensing criteria. We are concerned that this has created a silent underclass of transport workers being employed by operators that are desperate for skilled drivers but are starved for choice, and who are possibly vulnerable to underpayment from the few rogue operators out there who are ambivalent about exploiting people who don’t know their rights.

The VTA looks forward to working constructively with other industry groups that share our concerns on this important issue, and will continue to agitate legislators and regulators for the licensing reforms we need to maintain exceptional standards for drivers.

Peter Anderson
Victorian Transport Association

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