Industry hauls itself into gear

HIGH fuel prices, rising insurance costs, an ageing workforce and stagnating haulage rates threaten to bring the State's trucking industry to its knees.

Added to those woes is a WA Government push to introduce an accreditation scheme on June 30 that will set maintenance, driver training and fatigue management standards.

While most sectors of the industry welcome the accreditation move because it will lift standards in the industry and remove the ratbags? that are forcing down the rates, there are concerns that compliance costs will be crippling.

The average haulage rate has stayed between $1.00 per kilometre and $1.60 per kilometre depending on whether the truck is towing one, two or three trailers, for some time.

In the past 18 months the price of diesel has risen from about 70¢ per litre to more than 90¢ per litre. The price of diesel has been above the price of petrol for more than a year. Theoretically diesel should be cheaper because it requires less refining.

Petrol is cheaper than diesel at the moment because of a glut in Asia. Australian petrol and diesel prices are based on the Singapore refinery price and that price has petrol at six cents a litre cheaper than diesel.

But Australia's fuel prices have two more components. Tax and GST is added to the refinery price and then the petrol station's margin is added.

The collapse of HIH and the global pressures on the insurance industry following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US have forced insurance premiums up.

Another concern is that few young people are entering the industry. In a recent survey of 16,000 school leavers, McDonalds was rated as a better career path than trucking.

Accreditation offers some hope of giving the industry a better image.

WA Freightlines director Craig Jolly believes accreditation will instil the professionalism the industry needs.

"From our point of view it's about time it (accreditation) happened. It will instil the professionalism this industry needs. It has had a bad image for some time," Mr Jolly said.

He also believes the trucking industry will become a lot tougher for those players who do not gain accreditation.

Mr Jolly said his company had a policy of trying to bring young drivers up through the ranks, but admitted there were insurance problems associated with that plan. Unless the company can gain special dispensation, it is very difficult to gain insurance cover for long-haul drivers under 25 years of age.

Cockburn Transport owner Sam Jevtic thinks the accreditation should go further. He wants at least a 12-month apprenticeship introduced for new drivers.

"A lot of drivers around now need more experience," Mr Jevtic said.

Owner-driver Ashley Johnson said the price of fuel was his biggest concern.

"We get a rebate on the diesel we use but the Government taxes us on that rebate," he said.

"When I bought my truck 18 months ago the price of diesel was about 68¢ a litre. On those figures I reckoned I could earn $1,000 a week if I worked seven days a week.

"Now the price of diesel is around 96¢ a litre and the freight rates we get haven't changed. They didn?t even go up when the GST came in."

Mr Johnson said his licence cost him nearly $6,000 a year. He insured his truck last year for $330,000 and it cost him $12,000.

He reinsured it this year for $328,000 and the premium bill remained the same.

He believes it will cost him $2,000 to comply with the accreditation. So why does he stay in the industry?

"It gets into your blood. Trucking is a lifestyle thing,? Mr Johnson said.

Colonial Freightlines owner Damien Baker said the industry had been facing tough times, particularly since September 11.

"Woodside's train four will help the industry, providing other players don't force the rates down too much," Mr Baker said.

"One of the good things about accreditation is that it will get those that are cutting the rates too far because they won't be able to afford to comply."

Mr Baker said he had chosen to expand his company to a six-strong fleet because the economies of scale were better.

Transport Workers Union organ-iser Glenn Sterle said that, while the Woodside project would provide a much needed boost to the industry, it would not be enough.

"The industry needs to invest in young people and get the freight rates up. Woodside won?t be enough," Mr Sterle said.

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