Communicate clearly as the world changes daily

As we wake up each day to more changes to our world, communication is critical for businesses dealing with the global spread of COVID-19.

I know many businesses are facing pressure and business as usual is unlikely for some time. We are in a rapidly changing and unprecedented business environment when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For this reason it is essential that you are communicating with staff, suppliers and customers.

You need to assure all those you are in contact with that you are doing everything possible to prevent community spread of COVID-19.

Keep communication clear, factual and regular – daily if necessary. Be mindful of language as for many people, this is a very serious situation and people are feeling stressed and pressured.

RTF has heard of some primary food processing companies putting in measures to protect the integrity of their production line, including mandating that truck drivers sign a “declaration” each time they enter the premises to say they have not travelled overseas in the past two weeks.

Unfortunately, this is being done company-by-company, rather than in a co-ordinated way. So we are not sure what the basis of this decision-making is. There are currently no market access requirements, or requirements from the New Zealand Government for this type of measure.

But we also understand your customers may start implementing the measures they think are necessary to assure their customers that they are doing everything possible to prevent spread of COVID-19.

Please let the RTF know if there are any such changes to your supply chain, or any specific business issues you are having as a result of COVID-19.

All trucking companies should by now have a plan to manage their businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. It needs to be a flexible plan, as we are seeing daily changes to operations worldwide, particularly when it comes to the supply chain.

RTF has set up a webpage dedicated to providing information to the trucking industry throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. You can access it via our main page www.rtf.co.nz or directly here.

We are issuing regular circulars and fact sheets to advise businesses on the New Zealand response to coronavirus and these are available on the website.

It is important to use the accurate and verified information from the New Zealand Government as it applies to the New Zealand situation with COVID-19, not rely on information in the media or on social media. In particular, the Ministry of Health should be the source of all health related information and advice.

There are some measures specific to our industry that businesses should familiarise themselves with, including driver hygiene on the road and truck cleaning. There are no New Zealand guidelines on truck cleaning in a pandemic, but we have put on our website the very sound influenza pandemic advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This advice includes exposure risks for freight transport personnel; guidance on preparing workplaces for a flu pandemic; personal protective equipment; and truck cleaning.

Road freight transport is critical to maintaining continuity of vital operations in New Zealand at this time. RTF is working with the relevant authorities to ensure the vital links road freight transport provides remain effective.

You, our trucking community, are carrying the economy on the back of your trucks and we are here to ensure you can continue to do so.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Keep calm and carry on

It’s hard to know which is worse, the global spread of Covid-19, or coronavirus, or the panic and constant media barrage about it.

The RTF felt a bit like the canary in the coal mine when we wrote to the Government on 4 February and alerted them to the fact that businesses were already in trouble as a result of the virus in China, and we expected the situation to get worse. (Still haven’t had a reply to that, or a subsequent letter!)

Trucking is an early economic barometer. As soon as there is a squeeze in the global supply chain, trucking companies feel it. If goods aren’t coming into the country, or going out of the country, then there is no work for the trucks that normally move those goods.

Unfortunately, it took a month before anyone outside the trucking and forestry industries realised what we were saying was true. Once the first New Zealand Covid-19 case was confirmed last Friday, the Government kicked into gear.

Businesses may be feeling overwhelmed by the volume of information, mis-information, media, and public discussion about Covid-19. I have heard from the trucking industry that there are business continuity issues as work volumes decline, and some sectors have been hit worse than others. Please keep telling me about the effects on your businesses so we can advocate on your behalf.

New Zealand is being swept up in a global storm and much of what is happening is beyond our control. The good news is, we have really good government officials in the trade space who are working 24-7 to ensure our trade pathways operate at some level, if not at full capacity, so goods can come into and leave New Zealand.

I’ve said it before, but he continues to perform like a star, Ministry of Health director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield is the trusted health official whose advice you should follow. Social media appears to have millions of “health experts” globally, but Dr Bloomfield is the voice of science, facts and reason.

The New Zealand Government remains the best and most accurate source of information for the situation here, both health and business wise. The Road Transport Forum is gathering the most up-to-date information we can to keep the industry informed and we have set up a dedicated Covid-19 webpage.

If the situation gets to pandemic and crisis-level, the RTF has plans in place to communicate directly with freight operators.

Trucks are a vital lifeline in a crisis – as we have seen with the Canterbury and Kaikoura earthquakes – and truck operators may be called on to move essential supplies and deal with the aftermath of a pandemic. We will be talking to the government about that.

If your business is struggling to keep staff, or you have to lay off staff, let the RTF know. There are other compatible industries that may be struggling to get staff so there could be some opportunities. The Government is talking about no stand-down period for the jobseeker benefit for those unemployed as a result of Covid-19. We hope they will confirm that next week.

The RTF is best-placed to work with government and to source accurate information, which we can also distribute through our associations to the industry.

While these are certainly worrying times, it is important to keep perspective. The first priority for businesses must be the health and welfare of their staff. There is detailed advice about that on our website.

Plan for the worst, with a crisis management plan, but hope for the best.

Until the director-general of health tells us otherwise, life should be going on as normal. Looking at the panic buying in supermarkets, there should be plenty of work for those trucks. We just don’t want to create the panic that came from the truck carrying toilet paper in Australia rolling and catching fire!

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

 

Communication key in dealing with coronavirus

With 24-7 news cycles, the rapid spread of both information and mis-information on social media, and a tendency for people to panic, communication in a crisis is critical.

Accurate information needs to flow so that people can adequately manage what’s happening in front of them. Sometimes the picture can be changing rapidly. A trusted source of facts and critical advice must be in place before a crisis spirals. And that information needs to be available across all channels – not just to those who are adept at Google searching.

The Road Transport Forum (RTF) is aware the Covid-19, or coronavirus, is already having an impact on trucking businesses across a number of sectors. This is to be expected in a trading country where imports and exports to our far-flung corner of the world rely on a well-oiled global shipping network. To get goods on and off the ships, you need trucks. If the ships aren’t coming and going, then neither are trucks.

If you follow global shipping news, coronavirus is “convulsing every segment of the shipping industry, including container shipping, dry bulker, tanker, port, shipbuilding and banking”. (Lloyd’s List)

That’s not good news for New Zealand. The impacts on moving imports and exports are not going to be short-term here. I know this because I have been talking to ports and to operators across sectors, including forestry, freight forwarding, primary sector, and livestock.

The RTF is in the process of gathering information for our industry and setting up a communications network should there be a pandemic as a result of the spread of Covid-19.

Of course, the health and wellbeing of our nation is the most important thing and the Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has been a communications exemplar. He’s held regular face-to-face updates with media and shown a willingness to answer questions – not the often-seen blocking by government department tsars, or dependence on information on a website. It’s reassuring to have Dr Bloomfield at the helm of health if this does develop into a pandemic.

We have been disappointed, so far, by the lack of communication to sectors such as ours about a “whole of government” response to what is already happening across businesses that drive the economy. Speeches from the Prime Minister and Finance Minister do not filter through to the government workers on the ground in the provinces, at least not for those in the trucking industry who have tried to contact them.

On 4 February, RTF wrote to Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni, asking for urgent advice from the Government for trucking operators and staff in the log transport industry. We asked for a no stand down period for the unemployment benefit and some kind of tax relief.

That letter bounced around Parliament from Minister to Minister with no response, so on 26 February, RTF wrote to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

We have again asked for immediate removal of stand down periods for benefits for those affected by this economic shock, and that tax relief is given by IRD to road freight operators and contractors who will struggle to meet upcoming tax payments. We have gone right to the top because operators are telling me how serious this is getting. We want to believe the Government has a good plan to get New Zealand through what could become a global pandemic.

RTF is listening to operators and we will continue to push the government to help our sector as the impacts of coronavirus really take hold.

Meanwhile, below are some websites that have information about coronavirus.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Places to get information about Covid-19

Ministry of Health https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus or Healthline – 0800 358 5453

Ministry for Primary Industries https://www.mpi.govt.nz/exporting/coronavirus-and-the-effects-on-trade/

Business New Zealand https://www.businessnz.org.nz/data/assets/pdf_file/0007/187783/200217-coronavirus-website-advisory.pdf

Safetravel – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade https://safetravel.govt.nz/news/covid-19-coronavirus

Information for businesses https://www.business.govt.nz/news/coronavirus-information-for-businesses

Tax relief https://www.ird.govt.nz/Updates/News-Folder/tax-relief-coronavirus

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)