We should be celebrating our food producers, not criticising them

It is concerning to see how New Zealand’s primary food producers are being treated at the moment, when they are so essential to a healthy New Zealand economy. The food coming off farms feeds the rural economy, which feeds the provincial economies, and ultimately means we can have our easy living in the cities. That’s just the money side of things. They also produce food envied the world over.

Things are coming to a head over water access and quality and the rural sector is fighting back as fingers are unfairly pointed at them as having the biggest impact on New Zealand’s water quality.

Construction and cities are also significant polluters of waterways. While a sub-set of city dwellers trespass onto farms and shout at people in supermarkets to share their views on food production, they ignore their own back yard. Their diets that have them visiting the bathroom frequently and lifestyles that necessitate several daily showers are reflected on their local beaches, that are unswimmable for much of the summer. On the farm, water management is a serious issue and if there is no rain, there’s often no water for those things the city dwellers take for granted. Our farmers are custodians of the land and they’ve been taking measures to protect waterways for as long as they have been on the land – some of them four and five generations.

If rural and provincial economies are going to take big economic hits that may well drive food producers out of business, we will all suffer with them. So, it is hoped that pragmatism will prevail when it comes to addressing the environmental issues facing us today.

Much of the people the RTF represents are out in those rural and provincial areas, and one of the best parts of my job is getting out to visit those people who carry the New Zealand economy.

Last week, I visited Invercargill and got to look at the operations of Southern Milk Transport, with Brett Hamilton and his team. They are part of the vital supply chain from the farm to the kitchen, transporting raw milk for processing by Open Country Dairy, both in Southland and to Open Country’s processing plant in Whanganui, in the North Island.

The team at Southern Milk Transport visit scores of farms in Southland and Otago every day – so they are in touch with dairy farmers who are bearing the brunt of environmental hostility at the moment.

I think it is important that those criticising get out and see and hear what good work is going on to promote sustainable, good businesses. That includes the government officials setting policy.

I was particularly impressed by Southern Milk Transport’s inclusive culture and commitment to diversity. More than 20 percent of their tanker drivers are women. Brett says they wouldn’t be able to meet their business requirements if they didn’t employ women and give young drivers a chance. I’m pictured, above, with just some of the women drivers from Southern Milk Transport.

Across the group nationwide, it is estimated that the average driver age is about 10 years below the industry average, which is 54.

Southern Milk Transport has also invested in health and safety with high quality equipment, tailored to include safety features.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I would urge people who think they know all there is to know about the environmental practices in primary food production to actually speak to people out there doing this work every day – not shout at them; speak to them.

We all need the rural economy. It is the bedrock of our high standard of living. The concerns our primary food producers have at the moment are seriously impacting their health and welfare. It’s important everyone considers that, in the spirit of kindness.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Embracing the changing face of road transport

Last night on Newstalk ZB, when Heather du Plessis Allan was promoting her guest, a truck driver who won the EROAD Young Driver of the Year at this week’s NZ Road Transport Industry Awards, she said “and they are not going to be what you’d expect”.

As she introduced the winner, she reiterated that she thought it was unusual to find a 27-year-old woman switching from being a barista to driving logging trucks.

Summer Thompson (pictured above, left) was a barista at Robert Harris in Tokoroa who chatted to the many truck drivers who came in for coffee and food daily. One day, she asked her now employer, Graham Sheldrake, if he taught young people to driving logging trucks.

Summer did a great interview on NewstalkZB. When asked if she got a hard time from the men, she said quite the opposite was true and everyone was incredibly supportive and helpful.

Graham Sheldrake took her on as a permanent employee and sent her out with the most experienced driver to do her training. She flew through the licences and now drives a Kenworth K200, that is a 50-max unit. As she explained to Heather, that’s a big truck.

In her acceptance speech at the awards Summer acknowledged her fellow finalist, Toni Tawhara (pictured above, right), from Talley’s Group Limited in Motueka, and showed the kind of inclusiveness and leadership we want to see coming through the industry. Toni is 25, and she is a very competent class 5 driver.

Both these young women are impressive and the line-up of finalists for the awards showed there is diversity in the industry and we need to encourage it. Of the five awards, three went to women who are showing skills and leadership, and two went to stalwarts who are still as passionate about the industry as they were when they entered. We definitely believe the young have plenty to learn from the more experienced in the industry. (You can read about all the award winners here.)

But how they learn and what they want from their career has changed and our industry needs to understand this. At the RTF Annual Conference this week, we had speakers that challenged the industry to get on board with the changing face of the workforce and to think about how they can retain good staff by being flexible to their needs.

Melanie Boyle, founder of Women Step Forward, and Margaret Kouvelis, CEO of Talent Central, talked about the opportunities that employing a diverse workforce, including women and Millennials, can bring. They encouraged a change in mindset, particularly when it comes to entrenched ideas about young people not being as hardworking as their parents.

We also presented a strong focus on health and wellbeing. Our keynote speaker Craig Membrey, from Australia, was on TVNZ Breakfast and One News on the eve of the conference and confronted the devastating issue of depression and suicide. He touched a nerve with many people and it was humbling to see him share his very personal experiences with such emotion.

Dr Tom Mulholland and Dr Lucia Kelleher covered how physical and mental health are linked and the dangers of not paying attention to both when it comes to road safety.

Employers have a responsibility to ensure the workplace meets health and safety law and for our industry, it is critical that attention is paid to this as we share the road with the public. A moment’s distraction can cost lives. At the same time, an instinctive decision borne of years of experience can save lives, as we saw in the story of our Castrol Truck Driver Hero award winner Rex Temm, from Riordan & West in Te Awamutu. His quick thinking and knowledge of how to manoeuvre his truck saved a lone toddler from wandering onto a busy State Highway One, near Tokoroa, into the path of a heavily laden logging truck.

The annual conference was two days of making connections, hearing new things, making new friends and catching up with old ones, and generally showing an industry that has challenges, but is meeting them with pragmatism.

Thanks to the organisers and to everyone who attended.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Diversity the key to future proofing our workforce

I hear a lot about a shortage of drivers in the road freight industry and the Road Transport Forum is looking to nail down where those shortages are, and what future projections are, so we can work on a sustainable workforce.

We also want to ensure our industry’s workforce is ready for whatever the future might bring.

While there is a lot of talk of driverless trucks, we need to focus on the needs for the next five years, as well as the next 20. New Zealand’s roading network is such that it may be some time before a truck can self-guide from Kerikeri to Bluff; but that’s not to say it won’t happen.

Roads have been used to trade goods since the beginning of civilisation, so it is likely there will be some form of road freight transport for some time yet.

Some immediate steps that can be taken to build a better workforce include thinking outside the square and looking at the diverse willing workers available and giving them a chance. Another way to attract workers, and I have seen evidence of this in the industry, is to offer good wages so people can establish a “career” and feel secure.

At our conference on 24 and 25 September, at Wairakei Resort, near Taupo, we have some speakers who might challenge freight operators in their workforce thinking. That’s not to say we don’t have a diverse workforce, but we possibly don’t promote that aspect of the industry well and there’s always room to grow and change.

It is interesting that despite perceptions, many women work in road transport in New Zealand. I enjoyed meeting some from Otago and Southland last Friday night in Cromwell – pictured above. These women are company directors, dispatchers, shareholders, drivers and CEOs.

They see the value of being part of a workforce that underpins the economy. New Zealand is a trading nation and all day, every day, goods are making their way to markets, firstly by truck.

Then there are the essentials of life we need in New Zealand – food, medicines, and all those packages we order on line – they all get delivered by a truck, some direct to your door.

Some of the operators I’ve spoken to are keen to employ women drivers; they think they are careful and secure employees. They’ve had one woman come through the door, and others have followed and they’ve been happy about that.

So, let’s make sure we have the facilities and the culture that make it easy for women, young people, and people from the range of cultures that make up New Zealand, to be part of our industry.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Shaping work-based training important for our industry’s future

Heralded as a new dawn for work skills and training, there were a lot of words in the polytechnic and industry training reform announcements from the Government last week, but not a lot of detail for us to work with.

Being an optimist, this could be seen as a good thing. Our sector needs to recognise that change is coming and be positive and constructive about that. What are the legacy components of work-place based training and skills that we want to preserve, and what can we improve on so that more people engage with our industry?

As an industry with worker shortages, we are all about industry training. It is hard to see these announcements enhancing the relationship between government, education providers and industry, but we are willing to keep an open mind and we hope to be consulted on how road freight transport can benefit from future vocational education changes. We would be keen to see where we fit in the Workforce Development Councils, but at the moment, we have more questions than answers.

We made a submission on the proposed reforms and we were clear that we support the goal of rationalising the vocational training and education sector so that all qualifications and the way they are delivered are the same.

However, where we have landed thus far feels like we are looking at the same regime with different titles and management structures – with a strong injection of the unions – to deliver the same outcomes.

We question if the cost to the taxpayers and the disruption to both learners and those working in vocational education and training are worth it, if it is the same wheel, reinvented with a different look only. And we believe unionism should remain voluntary, not become compulsory.

Our industry recognises the very real issues the Education Minister is grappling with. We can also see why it is tempting to group the efficient and effective Industry Training Organisations (ITO) in with a total change. However, in our submission, we suggested the ITOs – which make up just 6% of tertiary funding – should not be reformed currently. We contended that could be assessed later, once changes to polytechnics are bedded down and the benefits evaluated.

In our view, the key outcomes of the reform should be to:

  • Create an attractive regime that addresses inequity and inequality
  • Have industry driven and guided training and qualifications
  • Create a system that end users want to participate in
  • Create world leading and integrated vocational education

Our view was there was strength in ITO model because it was industry-led, industry-governed and therefore, responsive to the needs of industry.

I was recently appointed to the MITO Board and attended my first meeting this week. It is fair to say that in an environment of disruption and an information void, sustaining interest in training programmes and keeping good people could be a challenge.

While we wait to see what shape future training will take, we are focused on finding industry-led solutions and the Road Transport Forum has taken responsibility for future development of the Sector Workforce Engagement Programme (SWEP). This means we can look at education and training in the areas most likely to be a source of future employees.  RTF is keen to see a formalised industry-led cadetship programme developed that has clear parameters and appropriate levels of recognition and opportunities for cadets.

We are also supportive of the MITO’s ShiftUp programme, that offers secondary school students learning opportunities in the road transport industry, with credits towards NCEA and an introduction to the workplace. That programme was launched this year.

It is always good to look to the future, but you also need to keep one eye on the now. We have to be careful that as this Government looks to a fossil-fuel free, carbon neutral, highly automated (driverless trucks), “knowledge economy” with no one in the trades and no need for immigration, that we remember that is all some way off. We need drivers now so that the supermarkets don’t run out of food, the hospitals don’t run out of medicine, and the economy, although slowing, can continue to provide us with our unique Kiwi way of life.

– Nick Leggett – CEO, Road Transport Forum

Road transport industry to talk about mental health

Every year in New Zealand about 500 people take their own lives. Many more attempt suicide and more still suffer from anxiety and depression. We are known for our high suicide rate among young people.

Our collective mental health is at such a point that in the 2019 Wellbeing Budget, the top spend of $1.9 billion was announced for improving mental health services.

Government data suggests one-in-five New Zealanders experience mental health and addiction challenges at any given time.

The road transport industry is of course, not immune to mental health and addiction. There are intense time and cost pressures to deal with every day for businesses, and for drivers, often a long time each day is spent alone. We want to take a look at mental health in our industry at the 2019 Road Transport Forum Conference in September, and we’re thrilled to have Craig Membrey as our keynote speaker.

Craig hails from Dandenong, near Melbourne in Australia, where he heads Membrey’s Transport & Crane Hire. He took over the business from his father, Jack. He has had four children and was hoping to have his eldest son join him running the family business, but he lost Rowan tragically in 2011 at the age of 17, when Rowan took his own life. This caused Craig to change some of his focus and resulted in him becoming an Ambassador for Beyond Blue, a not-for-profit organisation focused on mental health. They are an organisation he holds close to his heart and dedicates a lot of time to. This loss also prompted Craig to do up a truck dedicated to the memory of Rowan.

Craig speaks about his personal experience and we believe that while this is a confronting issue, it is something we need to feel comfortable talking about so that if people need help, they know what to do.

Our focus on mental health includes other speakers, Dr Tom Mulholland and Dr Lucia Kelleher.  Dr Tom is an emergency department doctor and best-selling author who began his career working in forestry, before going on to med school. In his talks he provides the audience with tools to deal with their physical health and mental resilience.

Dr Lucia is a behavioural neuroscientist with decades of experience helping businesses develop people in safety critical roles. She will talk about Busy Brain Syndrome as the root cause of autopilot behaviours – when you think you are focused, but you are not.

The Conference will also cover economics, businesses and HR practices, and political commentary from Transport Minister Phil Twyford, Forestry, Infrastructure and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, and National Party transport spokesperson Chris Bishop.  

It’s important for the road transport industry to get together annually and talk about collective issues, the business and political landscape, and the health and welfare of their employees.

You can read more about the speakers at the Conference, at Wairakei Resort on 24 and 25 September, and get Conference details here.

Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Where to find help and support for mental health:
Need to Talk? – Call or text 1737
Lifeline – 0800 543 354
Youthline – 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz  or online chat
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Illegal and unsafe behaviour must be stopped

The road transport industry has been hit by some publicity recently that could be seen to put industry employment practices into a dim light and I want to address that.

There is video footage in the public domain that appears to show practices the Road Transport Forum (RTF) considers completely unacceptable in the trucking industry. We believe the behaviour on the video is not indicative of wider industry practices. The video footage relates to a matter before the Courts and I will not comment on that.

I will say, that we strongly support endeavours to weed out illegal behaviour that compromises the safety of workers and the New Zealand public, including the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) increasing its regulatory and compliance audits on the industry.

All road transport employees are employed under New Zealand law and their contracts and work conditions must reflect that. As such, employees are entitled to regular breaks, which they must be allowed to take. Employers cannot ask their employees to break the law. As part of good employment practices, employers should ensure employees are aware of what they can do if they feel unsafe in the workplace.

There’s information about employment on the government’s Employment New Zealand website (www.employment.govt.nz) and at Employment Agreement Builder to assist employers in meeting the law and getting it right. The RTF does not accept workers being employed without contracts as that is against the law.

I also want to be very clear that as an industry body, we advocate on behalf of road transport businesses to allow for workers from overseas to come to New Zealand to work for them. We want to support employing New Zealanders first, but there is simply too big a gap between the jobs that need to be filled and the New Zealanders available.

Any migrant workers are covered by New Zealand employment law. They have the same rights as citizen workers and should not be exploited.

It’s important that the trucking industry – and all industries – understand that it’s likely that sourcing migrant labour will become harder as the Government focuses attention on training and employing Kiwis as a first priority. Rules around this will likely become more evident over the next few months. As I have said above, investing in training all staff, paying them fairly, and allowing them their rest and break periods, should be non-negotiable for all trucking operators.

As an industry body we work with government regulators to ensure the road transport industry is constantly improving health and safety. We believe that technology that is available now, and will be developed in the future, will contribute to this. For example, electronic logbooks can ensure an appropriate record of hours worked and breaks taken, as per employment law, particularly if aligned with GPS information.

At RTF we are working hard to attract workers to the road transport industry and to show career pathways that are rewarding. That can quickly be derailed by bad publicity, even if that publicity is only reflective of one or two industry players. Perception is reality.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

 

Professional road users committed to safety

During Road Safety Week 2019, I would like to acknowledge the great work many in the road transport industry are doing to ensure the safety of both their staff and all other road users.

Individual transport companies have staff and vehicles that travel millions of kilometres each year. Safety has to be a top priority when your machinery and people are travelling such vast distances. I got a first-hand run down of what companies are doing when I met with Greg Pert and Jackie Carroll from Tranzliquid (pictured) in Tauranga this week. Theirs is just one example of how companies integrate safety into their operations and their choice of investment in equipment, to ensure their staff get home safely after every trip.

Tranzliquid has combined new technologies and driver training in a commitment to safety. Staff are trained on “observation, anticipation and planning” so that they can manage risks and drive to the conditions.

We know that speed, fatigue and inattention are the big causes of accidents. To combat fatigue, Tranzliquid has designed a system that steps drivers through processes, while driving, to avoid fatigue. This includes a connection with the dispatcher at home base.

Safety features on vehicles now include:

  • Collision avoidance
  • Lane departure
  • Blind spot proximity
  • Disc brakes
  • EBS/ABS
  • Drag torque – anti wheel lock (in snow for instance)
  • Under run – side
  • Under run – front

They know of an incident where the under run on a truck proved life-saving for a car driver who fell asleep and hit a Tranzliquid truck.

Their business aim is to protect their drivers, other road users, their cargo and equipment and they are focused on happy staff and a downwards trend of accidents or incidents.

But they also say, there is only so much businesses can do and road conditions and congestion are impacting on productivity because they cannot move freight around fast enough.

If you can’t maximise the benefits of your clever trucks, there are consequences down the line, including an impact on the wider economy. For example, you might have 30 loads to get to Auckland but you can only manage to get 26 there, due to traffic and road works. The customer and carrier both incur additional costs in delays, and the loss of productivity and efficiency for the transport company reduces their ability and incentive to invest in new equipment and vehicles.

The road transport industry can only do so much to ensure safety. I am constantly being told that drivers are noticing the deteriorating condition of the roads, which will affect the safety of all people using them. Let’s not forget the behavior, skills and attention of all drivers on our roads.

As an economy that relies on goods being transported – to ports and airports for export and around the country for everything that keeps the country ticking – it is essential that the Government invests in more than just median barriers and rumble strips. Shifting the dial and reducing accidents rates and death on the roads involves focusing on many different aspects as outlined above. It will take a long time. It’s a responsibility that falls on all of our shoulders as road users.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum