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Peter Anderson

Practical measures essential to address COVID-19 challenges

May 2020

It seems a lifetime ago that the VTA and others tasked with advocating for our great transport industry and the people it employs were celebrating our response to the devastating bushfires that wreaked havoc across our country over the summer.

Images of selfless transport workers working overtime to deliver food, water and supplies by road and sea to people stranded in impacted areas will be forever seared in our memories, and those people will be remembered for their heroic efforts.

Bushfire recovery is now happening against a backdrop of the global coronavirus pandemic, which has unleashed havoc of a different kind on every aspect of our industry and our economy.

It is hard to avoid the negative aspects of COVID-19 when the media zeroes in everyday on the health and economic devastation it is causing. The unfortunate consequence is that the many positive steps our industry have formulated in response get overlooked.

At the VTA we have elected to prioritise the creation of positive and practical solutions for our industry, while helping our members manage and navigate the negative impacts coronavirus has had on their bottom line.

This has been evident in our efforts to advocate for the temporary lifting of curfews on heavy vehicles throughout Victoria, so that the demand surge on groceries, food and other household essentials could be satisfied by drivers working overtime. We commend the Victorian Government for listening to our advice, and for encouraging local governments to ease restrictions.

A by-product of images in the newspapers and on TV of trucks lined up at grocery stores to replenish empty shelves has been the impression that our industry has been largely unimpacted by coronavirus. It hasn’t.

While some operators are busier than ever, many operators, and thousands of drivers, are out of work because their markets have been shut down by isolation measures to contain the virus. If people aren’t shopping for non-essential goods like furniture, there’s no need for drivers to deliver them.

These are skilled, professional people who are now unemployed.

To correct this imbalance in the supply of drivers and vehicles the VTA, with the support of Transurban and Logical Staffing Solutions, has established a Driver Exchange program to match transport workers that have temporarily lost their jobs with industries where there has been a surge in demand.

This will create a pathway for companies to effectively exchange drivers, based upon their needs. The focus of the Driver Exchange is to keep drivers working by encouraging resource sharing within our industry, and to maintain efficient supply chains.

We are calling for expressions of interest by operators with excess drivers and by operators who are in desperate need of drivers. The VTA will assist in matching the requirements and ensuring that there is a smooth transition of drivers from one company to another.

At a practical level it is expected drivers would take Leave Without Pay from their principal employer and work on a monthly basis as a casual within the other company. The background of the driver would be documented by Logical Staffing Solutions to enable a smooth, seamless and cost-effective transition.

We understand some drivers will be expected to provide their labour carrying different freight at probably different times and perhaps at different rates. As always, the safety and responsibility for the drivers would always be paramount.

To register your interest and learn more, please contact us via the VTA website or by calling the Association on 03 9646 8590.

At the time of writing, there are encouraging signs the ‘curve’ is starting to flatten, with the infection spread rate in Australia down to around 10 per cent, from a high of 35 per cent.

Of course, this may change, and state and federal governments have announced unprecedented support packages for individuals, families and business in anticipation of the financial impacts of shutting down the economy.

But it is important to note that this crisis won’t last forever which is why it is critical that the transport industry keeps its most important assets – its people – busy and working. Transport will be in even greater demand when the crisis starts to ease, and our people are essential for the recovery.

Peter Anderson

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