Show me the money tree

As I look this week at another bunch of speed limit cuts around the country, I have to say, show me the money tree.

Anyone who thinks we should be slowing down the economy in the middle of a global pandemic that is putting companies out of business and workers out of jobs like never before, clearly has access to a money tree in the garden.

Driven by the ideological imperative of taking cars and trucks off the road to make way for cyclists and pedestrians, seldom does this decision-making consider economic impacts.

Commercial road users, who pay for their road use, feel the pain of reduced speeds on their bottom line. Time costs money. Slowing down freight on New Zealand roads costs everyone. And that’s in peace time. Now we face COVID-19 time when to survive, New Zealand is going to have to be able to move exports and imports as quickly and cost effectively as possible. That will be by road – 93% of the total tonnes of freight moved in New Zealand goes by road.

The Government continues to lower speed limits around the country in a piecemeal fashion, with no consideration of the big picture for those who move freight from one end of New Zealand to the other. Modelling showing a minute lost here and a minute lost there does not match the reality of extra hours on the road when you are criss-crossing regions with wildly varying speed limits.

We appreciate that in some cases, lowering speed limits might well have an impact in reducing the road toll. But time and time again, in our submissions and meetings with those who have already decided to lower the speed limits before they go out for consultation, we hit a brick wall when we talk about driver behaviour being the cause of death and injury on the roads. That’s drugs, alcohol, distraction and ability. A lot of government research focuses not on the cause of the accident, but why there was an impact severe enough to result in death. If you look at it that way, the law of physics suggests any speed of a moving vehicle will be a problem.

The sole focus on speed limits will do more harm than good.

I discovered this week we are not a lone voice. Northland Age editor Peter Jackson penned a well-written piece about speed limit reductions in Northland. He said:

“If the Government really wants to make back roads safer it will have to seal them, widen them, and get rid of more corners than anyone can begin to count.

“That’s not going to happen, but reducing speed limits is not a reasonable alternative. Rather it is yet another exercise in wasting money for no benefit. Worse, it could have the opposite effect to that intended.”

Quite rightly, Mr Jackson points out that rates will be diverted to: “be wasted on a forest of speed limit signs that most will ignore”.

He goes on to suggest: “What Parliament needs is a special Common Sense Unit, whose role will be to weed out the dumb ideas before they start costing money on projects that won’t work.”

You can read the editorial Are speed limits the answer? here. We concur with Mr Jackson.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Death and taxes

We’ve all learned a lot from the Covid-19 experience so far. No matter how resilient a business thought they were, months of no work, or severely reduced business, hits the bottom line and for those who can stay operating, costs have to be cut. We can see that in the number of people being laid off work every day.

Road freight transport has played a critical role in keeping New Zealand moving through the various stages of lockdown. Trucking will be equally important through the economic recovery as New Zealand will be heavily reliant on export goods making their way to markets around the world.

Trucking operators have adapted through the various restrictions imposed by Government and have done their best to keep some kind of business going and people employed.

Economic recovery is a long way off. While the trucking industry continues to respond quickly and well to the challenges presented by Covid-19, everyone has taken hits during New Zealand’s lockdown, and the hits keep coming.

Like all businesses, trucking companies want to get back to full operations as soon as possible, recover their losses as quickly as they can, and keep good people employed.

The challenge ahead for trucking operators that already work with tight margins will be the ability to absorb, or pass on, increasing costs when all businesses are tightening their belts.

This is why the RTF is asking the Government to again consider the increase to Road User Charges (RUC) of 5.3% on 1 July 2020. Back in April the Government said no to our first request to stop this increase, but the business environment is now even worse.

I am aware that trucking companies with customer agreements that allow them to negotiate increases on Government imposed charges are finding, in spite of contractual obligations, those customers are saying no to adding the RUC increase into costs.

If trucking companies cannot pass on this cost, they will have to absorb it. For some that will impossible in this environment.

New Zealanders are struggling to make ends meet, and businesses are trying to get back on their feet in the worst economic conditions most of us have seen in our lifetimes. No one can sustain increased costs. Yet if this tax goes ahead, trucking companies that want to survive will have to pass the cost on and the cost of living for all New Zealanders will increase.

Pretty much everything travels on the back of a truck, so it is a cost on the final price of all goods.

Benjamin Franklin said, in 1789, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. While the RTF appreciates the value of tax to keep our road network operating, in this Government’s own words, these are “unprecedented” times. Surely that means, in 2020, rules can be changed to accommodate what is looking like a very grim landscape.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Free up freight to keep the economy moving

Week one of the Government’s lockdown has been a grim one for business. Air New Zealand is a shadow of its former koru, Bauer media shut its doors, and the forestry industry is in dire straits.

Most businesses are feeling the pain, with no end in sight. Even while the Government focuses on the health aspects of the global pandemic that is Covid-19, part of its enormous resources needs to be looking at economic recovery.

In a democracy, you can’t lock up a population and keep them terrified with mind-blowing numbers of fatalities for too long, without some serious questions being asked. Words like “unprecedented”, “we’re all in this together” and “the new normal” are carefully crafted to maintain control. But in the lounge rooms around New Zealand people are losing their livelihoods and there won’t be enough money to maintain that for too long.

The solution that has been mooted of a Depression-era road building gang under yet another government department’s control cannot be the only way out of this.

While we desperately need better roads, there have to be viable businesses using them and people who have jobs to go to. And this project is being headed by Transport Minister Phil Twyford who previously said, “there has been an over-investment in roads and motorways for decades in this country”.

Everyone is scrutinising the behaviour of our leaders, so when the Health Minister flouts the lockdown rules and the Transport Minister has a 360 degree change of heart, it feels like the recovery strategy might be a bit shaky.

Talk of an “institute” to train workers for the road building smacks of creating an even more bloated public service – there are already training programmes for this and what about the Reform of Vocational Education? The only people assured of jobs through this are public servants.

Trucking essential goods is an essential industry, but trucking companies are doing this at a loss because they cannot operate their businesses efficiently.

Supply chain links vital to getting essential supplies where they need to go must be allowed to work if trucking companies are to survive long enough to meet the demands of the Covid-19 response.

The Government needs to listen to business people and understand how business works. It is the private sector that will re-build the economy, not the public sector. The public sector spending on infrastructure won’t dig us out of a hole. New Zealand needs to generate wealth as the Government will need someone to tax. They have to keep people in business and that’s not just big business either. Small and medium businesses are the backbone of our country. The government can’t afford to forget that.

The decision to classify freight into two arbitrary groups – essential and non-essential – shows a lack of understanding of what is an integrated global system.

You take one link out, and the whole chain starts grinding to a halt.

As an importing and exporting nation, goods have to be able to come in and go out.

But at the moment, goods deemed “non-essential”, such as logs and processed wood products, are not allowed to go out. That means other countries that don’t have these restrictions are taking our market-share and we may never get it back. The longer this goes on the more people in the New Zealand provinces where forestry is a key employer will be out of work and the more businesses will fold.

The imperative to plant one billion trees is out the window and down the road.

We can’t export without importing. We must be able to move goods. Workers are already working in the “new normal” conditions of social distancing and strict hygiene, so this is doable under Alert Level 4.

We know that it is vital that items deemed essential move quickly through the supply chain, and priority should be given to them. However, for the supply chain to actually function now, and during our nation’s economic recovery, the classification to control its movement should be scrapped.
– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Get ready for the youth wave

Sometimes, it’s the small things that Governments do that have the biggest impact.

Last month, Employment Minister Willie Jackson launched a Youth Ready Employer Programme, aimed at ensuring employers have all the tools they need to employ young people.

For something that I think could have far reaching benefits, it was done in a fairly low key way. Minister Jackson had been to the UK and met two amazing young entrepreneurs – Jack Parsons and Ben Towers – who are all about getting young people into work, as well as getting employers to understand the benefits of employing young people and how to go about that.

Their message is so personal and compelling, these entrepreneurs travelled to New Zealand to talk to businesses for the launch of the programme, which is a collaboration between Ministry of Social Development, the Auckland Business Chamber and its wider chamber network, and Parsons and Towers.

As each generation ages, they tend to criticise the younger generation coming through. But this is not going to provide the necessary solutions to both our changing work environment and our immediate and future worker and skills needs. The nature of work is changing and employers need to embrace the change and employ people who can solve problems and bring fresh ideas – perhaps doing that in a different way to the boss.

It’s time to look at it from the employee’s perspective – there are barriers for some young people to get a look in for their first job. These are things like social and economic disadvantage, mental health, and employer rules and attitudes.

Jack Parsons and Ben Towers are walking counterpoints to many of the barriers older employers might put up.

Young people spend too much time online, they might say. Is that a bad thing? Ben Towers built his first website for a family friend at the age of 11, in his bedroom. He taught himself through You Tube videos. By 13, he had a website business. He couldn’t get a business banking account until he was over 18, and by that stage he had over 20 employees. He’s 21 and sold that business for millions of dollars. He now focuses on public speaking and investing in start-ups.

They don’t dress properly the older generation might say. Jack Parsons has dealt with young people who haven’t been able to go to job interviews because they can’t afford something to wear and have been too intimidated to go into a corporate environment. He has challenged the corporates on that and suggested they meet the candidate somewhere the candidates themselves might feel comfortable, like a coffee shop.

Parsons knows all about disadvantage. Growing up, he lived on a housing estate with an alcoholic mother, he battled dyslexia and attended speech therapy. Looking around him, a life of drugs and crime was a seriously viable option. But he chose to swim rather than sink and at 20, he was chief executive of his own company, the Youth Group. He has been recognised as one of Britain’s 50 kindest leaders and he continues to offer products and services to young people looking to get a start in the business world.

Both Ben and Jack are conscious of the mental health issues that can hold back young people and they want to address these. Ben plans to launch an app to help people with loneliness and Jack talks candidly about his own mental health challenges.

Their message to employers is to understand who you are going to employ and the Youth Ready Employer tool kit, available online, gives a pathway to employers to follow to become “youth ready”. The focus is on finding ways to connect with the age group of 18 to 30-year-olds who have common characteristics, operating styles and work expectations.

This is something I think the Government has done well, that will be really helpful for businesses.

We need to reflect these principles as we build the industry cadetship. If our industry wants to attract a younger workforce, it’s the industry that must change and adapt, not the other way around.

You can find out more about the toolkit here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Employer attitudes key to solving driver shortage

The driver shortage in the road freight transport industry is well known. Since I started at the Road Transport Forum (RTF) just over a year ago, many operators have talked to me about the shortages they face in securing drivers to enable them to run their businesses effectively. Trucks are often parked up and there is a lack of choice that was once enjoyed when recruiting staff.

Our industry isn’t unique in this dilemma. An ageing population is taking its toll on our workforce, across New Zealand and the developed world. We’ve seen it coming for many years.

The world has changed and we are living in a period where there is fierce competition to secure an able, skilled and qualified workforce. Pay, conditions, and investment in training all play a part in workers making choices about jobs, and careers. Can they see a future, is there a path to promotion, management, or business ownership?

There is a stark contrast I’ve detected as I move around the country; the differences between companies that are short of drivers and those who are not. Everyone says it’s an issue for the industry, but not every operator faces it as a direct challenge in their business. Why is this? Well, for a start it appears employer attitude and commitment to staff play a big part.

I was on a regional visit recently and I met two operators one after the other. The first one had a diverse workforce, including many women drivers and an average age that was probably 15 years younger than the industry average. The team was enthusiastic about their work and genuinely committed to the company that paid them well and invested in them gaining skills and qualifications. The staff were the best ambassadors for gaining new drivers; the company literally had a waiting list of people wanting to start with them.

Another company I visited, justifiably complained about their inability to get drivers and asked about what the RTF was doing about it. When I asked how many women drivers they had working for them, they told me they didn’t like employing women because they got pregnant and they also had reservations about ethnic groups. Further revelations indicated they were a fairly poor payer compared to some of the competition. I told them that the RTF can advocate and it can help set up opportunities for the industry, but ultimately, the solution to the workforce shortage lies in every business having the right attitude to its potential workforce and making changes to shifts, pay, education and safety that better attracts a new generation of drivers.

It’s really easy to blame everyone else for a shortage, whether it be Government or whoever, but I firmly believe the solution to our industry shortages lie with us.

So how do we overcome this?

The RTF has to provide a structure for better supporting businesses to attract workers. This isn’t an overnight solution and it will take time, but I want to signal to the industry that we are aware of this issue and that this year, we hope to announce a cadetship that will begin to usher in a new generation of workers.

The good news is the industry has started putting in place the framework to support a cadetship and there are operators who want to invest in their teams’ skillsets and qualifications.

For a start, all the associations and the RTF have been involved in creating a Workforce Development Strategy with MITO. This will lead to a national action plan for which the RTF will be the primary co-ordinating body.

You can look at the very readable strategy here.

This strategy is also backed up by qualifications that operators should be focussing their staff on obtaining. The New Zealand Certificate in Commercial Road Transport Skills (Level 3) and the New Zealand Certificate in Commercial Road Transport (Heavy Vehicle Operator – Level 3), are available this year.

Once the industry demonstrates an appetite for investing in qualifications and skills, we will be in a better position to demand more support from Government. The woeful enrolments of industry workers in MITO qualifications needs to improve in 2020 if we have any chance of showing that we are serious about tackling industry shortages. Potential and current employees need to see they are valued and that their skills will be invested in by their employers. Otherwise, those five staff members you will be losing to retirement in the next three years, won’t be replaced as young people go where they are wanted.

Specific course information is here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Not enough information for cannabis referendum vote

At next year’s general election, the New Zealand public will vote yes or no to a referendum question around legalising recreational cannabis use throughout the country.

That vote will focus on the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, a draft of which was released by Justice Minister Andrew Little on 3 December.

The road freight transport industry has serious misgivings about this draft Bill. It is woefully incomplete, dangerously naïve, too narrow in focus, and lacking in critical detail. It is too incomplete to vote on and people need the full picture before such a vote.

For safety sensitive industries such as road freight transport, we cannot see how this Bill will in any way correlate to the strict health and safety legislation in New Zealand. In fact, in the section (8) that outlines the “Relationship between Act and other enactments”, there is no mention of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, which holds employers and Boards strictly liable for the health and safety of their workers.

The road is the truck drivers’ workplace, so we care a lot about road safety. We cannot see how this Bill will in any way contribute to safer roads, which is allegedly of critical importance to this Government. We already have a situation where the number of people being killed by drug impaired drivers on New Zealand roads eclipses those killed by drivers above the alcohol limit.

Indeed, in releasing the Bill, Minister Little was quoted as saying that exploring the risks of drugged driving and workplace impairment would be pushed back until after the referendum vote.

That is not good enough. People should be given all the facts before they vote on this Bill.

International research shows that where cannabis is legalised, consumption is higher and new users enter the market. So potentially, we have more drugged drivers on the road.

Deloitte has done a number of reports on Canada, which has legalised the use of recreational cannabis nationwide. They make for interesting reading.

The Deloitte report, A society in transition, an industry ready to bloom, surveyed current and likely cannabis consumers across Canada in early 2018, to gain insights into how consumption levels might change, what kinds of products consumers would be interested in, and how and where they’d like to purchase. They found that purchases by current and likely frequent cannabis consumers were set to rise up to 22 percent after legalisation.

The report says: “We see a more significant change in behaviour among less frequent consumers, both current and likely. After legalization, purchase frequency in this group is poised to raise 121 percent”.

It is incredibly naïve to believe that where there are commercial imperatives, anyone involved in making money from cannabis sales will in any way be focused on reducing consumption.

Research in the United States shows an increase in road crashes in states that have legalised marijuana, compared to states where marijuana is not legal. There is a need for more research in this area, but it is important to note. This evidence is incongruous with the New Zealand Government’s Road to Zero road safety strategy.

We don’t believe the Government is giving the full picture of the direct and unintended consequences of the Bill. Some big impact questions for safety sensitive industries need to be answered, particularly around liability when WorkSafe fines for workplace accidents are now well into six figures.

There are too many unanswered questions and after the referendum, that this current Government would consider binding, is too late for those answers. That’s what they call closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Worker freedom and flexibility being eroded by law changes

The Government’s move to “one size fits all” with its employment and immigration law changes will restrict the freedom and flexibility truck drivers currently enjoy.

With an election year coming, the unions are flexing their muscles. Fresh from making new employees be employed under terms consistent with the collective agreement for their first 30 days, as per changes to the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018, they are chasing Fair Pay Agreements, and Multiple Employer Collective Agreements (MECAs). There is no interest in the wider road freight transport sector for MECA agreements.

The Government continues to ignore businesses that are happily going about their business without the restrictive hands of the unions. The RTF has recently submitted on the Designing a Fair Pay Agreements System Discussion Paper and the Addressing Temporary Migrant Worker Exploitation: Consultation Document. It’s almost a fulltime job trying to keep up with all the changes this Government wants to make to restrict business.

We do not support the Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) because they will distort the market and create a number of undesirable outcomes. Unionising the workforce will not alleviate a worker shortage, or improve conditions. Quite the opposite will occur; it will make the road freight industry less attractive to people who want flexibility, including women who are enjoying working in trucking because the can start work early and get home in time to manage the day and after-school activities for their children.

This is at a time when we are focused on increasing diversity in our industry and encouraging employers to provide the flexibility to encourage that.

We believe the proposals in this particular discussion document risk returning the road freight transport industry to pre-1991 bargaining conditions, which we do not support. We want to move forwards, not back 30 years.

The employment landscape has changed since the heyday of the unions back somewhere in history. FPAs will be expensive and slow for employers and consequently, employees, particularly for the small to medium sized companies that make up the bulk of the road freight transport industry.

We believe a voluntary approach is more balanced with today’s business environment. Government support for industries, such as ours, rather than the demonising we are seeing with statements such as “getting dangerous trucks off the road”, would be more useful in solving both the road freight industry’s worker shortages and getting people who are out of work into rewarding careers.

The anti-immigration stance of this Government is making it so difficult for employers to employ the seasonal visitor workforce, those workers are no longer even coming here.

Recent changes to immigration policy also conspire against improving conditions in the workplace. Making it almost impossible to hire migrant truck drivers to pick up some of the workload will only increase the workload for New Zealand drivers. There is enough work to go around, with the road freight task increasing. There seems to be no logic in play.

We accept there is opportunity in New Zealand for worker exploitation – that is for all workers, not specifically migrants. We believe the best approach to this is to ensure first, education about rights under the law. The second step is to ensure the investigative resource is available and suitably trained to carry out effective investigations across the whole supply chain.

In our industry, drivers want choices about how and when they work. Trucking varies tremendously between different companies, regions, freight types and vehicles used. National, or even regional awards, are not going to be flexible enough to allow for that variation, or to meet driver needs. With driver shortages, good drivers have flexibility and are well paid.

The next line of attack from the Government is going to be on independent contractors, that is, people who want to work for themselves. The impacts of that go right to the heart of our industry – many owner-drivers work on contract to larger companies. This issue is currently being debated by the trucking industry in California, where the industry is saying it will dramatically affect upwards of 70,000 drivers who will possibly elect to either leave the state, or the occupation entirely. Submissions close on 14 February 2020 on the Better protections for contractors: Discussion document for public feedback, which is another one for our pile.

You are left wondering when the Government will start listening to the experts in business who drive the economy.

– 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)