Trucking's tough market - SPECIAL REPORT

24/11/2014 - 09:57

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Our annual Transport and Logistics feature discusses the role of a maritime logistics officer, how a business caters to a skills shortage in the transport industry, the tier 3 rail lines, training for truck drivers in the Pilbara, and the recent completion of the Fremantle harbour rail upgrade.

Trucking's tough market - SPECIAL REPORT
CONGESTED: WARTA chief executive Ian King. Photo: Attila Csaszar

For more stories on Transport and Logistics see the Special Report, which discusses the role of a maritime logistics officer, how a business caters to a skills shortage in the transport industry, the tier 3 rail lines, training for truck drivers in the Pilbara, and the recent completion of the Fremantle harbour rail upgrade.

Transport companies are riding out the slowdown in work as state and federal governments take action on haulage and pay rates.

Falling consumer confidence and a slowdown in major construction projects have delivered hefty blows to the transport industry during the past year.

“There’s a lot of trucks sitting on the side not doing very much work,” Western Australia Road Transport Association chief executive Ian King told Business News.

“There’s still work going on but they no longer have the option to pick what they want, this time they take what they can get.”

The BNiQ list of trucking and logistics companies shows the largest companies have kept a steady presence amid challenging market conditions, including those of six months ago when the decade-long shortage of truck drivers in the Pilbara reached an all-time high.

In June, companies were outbidding each other to poach the most specialised truckies – those with dangerous goods licences.

“Those days where they were throwing the big money around is very much gone,” Mr King said.

With a slowdown in work, most notably in construction and retail, the biggest issue the transport industry is facing at the moment is a cut to pay and tender rates.

Transport Workers Union WA secretary Tim Dawson said that, as work dried up, companies, owner-drivers and sub contractors renting trucks were being affected by a hyper-competitive environment.

“Retail is still a bit slow, any transport coming off the wharf is in a downturn as well,” he said.

“It drives rates down.

“People will always undercut (rates) when they’re getting tight in business. That is one of the biggest risks that lie ahead of us in the next six to 12 months.”

Mr King and Mr Dawson’s organisations are divided on the potential impact of a Liberal-led review into the federal road safety remuneration tribunal, which was established to prevent drivers being pressured to speed and not take breaks – primarily by setting enforceable pay minimums.

While the TWU is concerned the government could scrap the tribunal outright, WARTA believes an initiative introduced last year in Western Australia provides drivers and businesses with sufficient protection. (The WA system helps drivers calculate rates based on variable, individual factors including truck type, fuel costs, and distance travelled.)

“The WA government is probably the lead government in Australia in relation to coming up with a cost calculator where anyone can ... show to the company you’re negotiating with, that’s my cost,” Mr King said.

Mr Dawson said wages for truckies varied widely.

“Some truck drivers are forced to work up to 100 hours a week to earn a living. (It’s) not so much what somebody earns, it’s what they have to do to earn that money,” he said.

“Or how many hours a transport company has to have that truck on the road to pay for the truck and keep it maintained and safe.

“An owner-driver might earn $5,000 a week, but $3,500 to $4,000 of that may well need to be put into fuel, rego and repayments on their truck.”

McAleese Transport, which has a contract with Atlas Iron to truck its ore to Port Hedland, has worked with the junior high-cost miner to reduce costs and deliver increased production.

Number three on the BNiQ trucking and logistics list, McAleese cut 750 staff across Australia during the past six months and restructured its organisation during a challenging year.

Among the changes at McAleese was the purchase of former ninth-listed WA Freight Group, taking a 50 per cent share in Heavy Haulage Australia, and making its Cootes Transport fleet smaller and more modern.

Shares in McAleese have fallen 37 per cent since August, but chairman Don Telford said the business was aiming to diversify its revenue opportunities and expand so it could leverage its scale. 


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