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

Water policy will hurt us all

A strong New Zealand economy relies on a healthy primary sector. If the farmers and growers who produce our food and related primary products are doing well, that positively impacts the whole economy. That includes those in the road freight business of moving those goods around New Zealand and to ports and airports for export, as well as all the goods down the track made from all those primary products.

Conversely, if farmers are feeling pain, that ripples far beyond the farm gate and will hurt us all – prices go up and jobs get scarce.

This Government’s ideologically driven environmental policies are costing and hurting farmers and growers who are not solely responsible for all New Zealand’s environmental ills. So last week, the Road Transport Forum joined about 17,500 others and submitted on the Action for healthy waterways – A discussion document on national direction for our essential freshwater.

Unlike the Government, we have been listening to farmers and growers, who are the customers of transport operators. And transport operators are concerned that if business dries up in rural and provincial communities, we are all going to be in trouble. This is why business and farmer confidence is so low – no business owner likes uncertainty and New Zealand’s competitors in export markets are clapping their hands as they watch our businesses get priced off the global market with expensive rules that don’t apply anywhere else.

This is not to say we are against changes to improve our environment. And while we are not experts in water, we very generally support the Government’s intent to improve water quality on the grounds of benefits to all New Zealanders.

However, we have an issue with the process this water reform is taking, the rapid timeframe, and the lack of robust economic analysis that has been applied to a policy direction that will have long-standing and detrimental impacts on our whole economy. It is on that basis we have submitted.

We contend that the Government has not considered how its proposals will affect whole communities and we believe that the trade-offs that will be needed will have to be well understood by all New Zealanders before proposed changes in land use practices are implemented.

We believe the Government has taken a very narrow focus and has not applied its own economic measure of the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework, to fully explore the four capitals – natural, social, human, and financial and physical – collectively to this policy.

There’s a lot of environmental science, and a lot of talk of returning New Zealand waterways to a state that existed when there were hardly any people here, but not a lot of consideration of how the way of life for all New Zealanders will change when our food producers take such a massive hit – to the point they are saying they will no longer be able to produce food and they won’t be able to sell their land, losing all their equity.

In the documentation supporting this policy is it concerning to see this objective in the Draft National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management:

The objective of this National Policy Statement is to ensure that resources are managed in a way that prioritises:

first, the health and wellbeing of waterbodies and freshwater ecosystems; and

second, the essential health needs of people; and

third, the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural wellbeing, now and in the future.

This can only be interpreted as suggesting that the essential health needs of people are secondary to the health and wellbeing of waterbodies and freshwater ecosystems, and that the wellbeing of communities is a distant third.

If this is the Government’s view, in order of priority, we suggest it is likely that the economic activity that keeps New Zealand operating will be seriously compromised, with untenable flow-on impacts in terms of employment, productivity, and community health and wellbeing across the rural, provincial and urban communities. This is pure “planet over people” ideology.

Regarding the process, we are not confident all 17,500-odd submissions will be read and considered. There is now no opportunity to have any further input. A small group selected by the Government will summarise the submissions and then it is straight to Cabinet for decision making.

We would like to see more breadth in the process that gives consideration to the social, human and financial impacts beyond the farm gate, region-by-region, with an over-arching analysis of economic impact to New Zealand as a whole.

A report released yesterday (Thursday 7 November) further illustrates our concerns about an ideological approach. Environment Commissioner Simon Upton said in his report, ‘huge’ gaps in data and knowledge leave an unclear picture of the state of our environment and whether it’s getting better or worse. He said this could be costing us in the form of poorly designed policies or irreversible damage.

“Further, the costs are not just environmental – they have real consequences for the economy, society and our wellbeing,” Upton says.

“We can’t make economically efficient or socially fair environmental rules if we can’t measure authoritatively what’s happening to the physical resource base on which our wellbeing ultimately depends.”

You can find our submission here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Wellingtonians mere pawns in Government games

I know that most of the country isn’t really that interested in what happens in the capital, but please indulge me for this one blog.

As somebody who lives and is passionate about the Wellington region, it makes me irate to see Wellingtonians and their transport issues become pawns in this Government’s ideological games.

It was disappointing this week that Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, did not force Julie-Anne Genter to release the infamous letter she sent to Phil Twyford on the Let’s Get Wellington Moving Project. Nevertheless, Minister Genter was compelled to disclose its contents and they were as bad as we all feared – she threatened the loss of Green Party support unless cycling lanes and a light rail were made priorities ahead of a second Mt Victoria tunnel. The result was a Let’s Get Wellington Moving plan that would do little to alleviate traffic congestion and delayed even turning a sod on the second Mt Victoria tunnel until 2029. Code for, it’s not actually going to be built as part of this plan.

Now, anyone who has spent anytime in Wellington knows that Mt Victoria and the Basin Reserve along with the inadequate 3-lane Terrace Tunnel are our biggest transport issues. They create bottlenecks that at busy times result in large parts of the city being locked up in congestion. Over the last 10-15 years these congestion issues have become so bad that the city really does have a transport crisis on its hands. A number of studies have confirmed that for a city of its size Wellington is one of the most congested in the world. What’s worse, is that needed roading improvements north in the form of Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressway mean that more traffic will be coming into the Wellington CBD.

It has become so difficult to get across town at times that traffic is now having a measurable detrimental effect on the lives of Wellingtonians. Most people I know just refuse to go into the city on a Saturday morning, for example.

The reality is that you can add as many cycleways as you like but with the geography and weather that Wellington has, cycling will only ever take a tiny proportion of traffic off the road and will never be the primary form of transport for most Wellingtonians.

I am often accused of being anti-public transport for voicing the concerns I have regarding our road (as a a regular user of our trains to get to work, it’s simply not true). However, the last time I looked; buses also travelled on roads. Unfortunately, in Wellington the bus system is so fragile that it is actually contributing to the city’s congestion problems. The Let’s Get Wellington Moving project could have chosen to run with a project called Bus Priority, which would have meant more buses in dedicated lanes up and running within 18 months. Instead, they’ve lumbered the region and city with an unfunded, futuristic scheme that will sadly never got off the ground and make a real difference in moving freight and people around.

A fully-functioning public transport system, including a reliable bus network, that supplements private and commercial transport, requires transport corridors made up of multi-lane roads, the tunnels and flyovers to get around natural bottlenecks.

Focusing on those things rather than the folly of a pie-in-the-sky light rail project is what a responsible Government that respects the needs of Wellingtonians would do. Unfortunately, the anti-road brigade who are now occupying some parts of Government (but not all), are so fundamentally blinkered that there is little hope of genuine progress.

Finally, let me wish new Wellington Mayor Andy Foster the best of luck in his new role. It cannot be underestimated just what a difficult job he has to get agreement with our Government and sort through this mess.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Road builders in la-la land

I am once again, disappointed – and dismayed – to find Wellington policy makers driving ahead with significant changes to critical infrastructure without fully understanding user needs.

This week, I found out that at this late stage of the Manawatū Tararua Highway build – the Manawatū Gorge replacement – the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is proposing what was going to be a full four-lane piece of highway (two lanes each way) will reduce to two lanes at a pivotal point, for three kilometres.

This is at the steepest point and will slow down trucks using the road, create congestion, and impact safety.

Not only that, despite engagement with, and outright pleas from our industry, a Stock Effluent Dump Site (SED) has not been included within the scope of works – NZTA previously advised it was included – no land has been purchased for this, and it is off the table.

To rub salt in that wound, the NZTA has asked truck drivers to use an existing SED near Woodville, knowing it is not safe.

This defies logic and all the road safety rhetoric. Ridiculous statements from a safety review of the more recent design work which say that going to one lane for a short section “reduces the perception that the new road is a motorway” and is “more in keeping with a rural look and feel for the road, to better fit in with the character of the landscape” reflect that ideology, not fit-for-purpose design, is behind these changes.

Let’s be clear, this is a highway and first and foremost, it should be built properly, for purpose. It is a key east-west connection for the Lower North Island to get New Zealand’s food and primary products to market. First build the road. Then if someone wants to spend millions of dollars making it look pretty, go for it. But don’t make that part of the road building costs. For most of us, a drive through the New Zealand countryside is pretty enough.

A single lane each side at the road’s steepest point is an unnecessary design approach given the carriage way appears to be wide enough, as shown in this flyover. Most light vehicle users will be frustrated to be caught behind a truck when they find their passing opportunity evaporate in front of their eyes. This could well cause safety issues.

On the matter of stock effluent, it has been made clear to the NZTA that the existing Woodville SED is unsafe – as the photo above shows – because:

  • The turning space in and out of the facility has a concrete curb that the units have to drive over causing judder bar effects (these have been asked to be removed previously)
  • The fence separating the temporary exit is not consistent causing a narrowing toward the exit point (this has been advised previously)
  • The culvert on exit needs lengthening 2 -3 metres, as it does not allow 5-axle trailers the correct cut required to exit safely (this has been advised previously).

With no safe stock effluent dumping sites accessible before taking on the hill, effluent spillage all over the new road is likely. This may incur infringement notices, which will be heavily defended by our industry due to the deliberate oversight of this issue by NZTA.

I sometimes wonder if I’m in an alternate reality where the cost of living is of no relevance, food is unnecessary, and we are all walking and cycling in happy unison. But in the real world, I’ll keep asking for us to get this right first time – if the project is not funded correctly, it will slow down our economy and cause frustration to all drivers on that road.

The RTF is concerned that the current course of action will only see a mammoth cost in the years ahead when the under specification will have to be corrected. Our view is that NZTA needs to ask the Government to increase the construction budget to get this road built right – it is after all, the only new road build currently on the books.

Kiwis expect to see first-class infrastructure and high quality roading, given the increases in petrol tax and Road User Charges that they have had to endure.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

 

Rhetoric rather than action on fuel costs

Last week, we saw the Prime Minister accusing petrol companies of fleecing New Zealanders. She came out all guns blazing, but then said those of us being fleeced will just have to wait for a solution.

The report she was so incensed about was after all, just a draft. She will have to wait for the final report from the Commerce Commission into the retail fuel sector, due in December this year, before deciding what to actually do. Cynics might say slashing petrol prices as part of an election campaign could be the action taken. The Government is certainly taking enough in tax at the pump to make a price cut.

The strident prose from the Prime Minister fell a bit flat when she had no action plan to back it up. She broke about every rule of politics, management, communications, and making an announcement, by having nothing to really announce after blowing up a situation into a “really big thing”.

She’s left a void of five or six months where people will continue to be “fleeced at the pump”. If the situation was so dire, she’s the Prime Minister, she could have announced some immediate actions. Instead she promised the Government would “make a difference at the pump”, but couldn’t say when that might be, or what that might be.

So, for most people, life goes on trying to make ends meet and worrying about the increasing cost of living in an economy that no one has much confidence in.

This is all part of the confusing messaging we continue to get from this Government when it comes to roads, cars, trucks and the use of fossil fuels. One minute they are saying there is no money for roads; they are ending all support for fossil fuel industries in New Zealand, including exploration; and telling us fossil-fuelled vehicles are ruining the planet. The next minute they are the defenders of users of fossil-fuelled vehicles, ignoring the fact that the biggest fuel cost is the taxes they have imposed to further incentivise people to move away from such vehicles.

They have once again shown they are anti-business and do not understand basic economics, it is no wonder business confidence is so low.

The above graph from the Market study into the retail fuel sector Draft report (page 24) shows taxes at about $0.97 per litre on 91 Octane. The importer costs, about $0.83 per litre, are the costs of importing fuel to New Zealand. Importer margins, about $0.34 per litre, represent the gross margin available to fuel importers to cover domestic transportation, distribution and retailing costs in New Zealand, as well as profit margins. So that $0.34 per litre is not profit.

When you put the $0.97 per litre tax, which goes into the Government coffers, against the $0.34 per litre that is not profit, but the gross margin available to fuel importers, who is doing the fleecing becomes a bit blurred.

The tax take is made up of fuel excise, ACC levies, Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) levy, and the Auckland regional fuel tax; mostly fuel excise and Auckland regional fuel tax which is supposed to be spent on roads. Our industry is concerned that tax take isn’t being put back into roads, which are deteriorating badly.

As trucks will be reliant on fossil fuels for some time, until someone comes up with a viable mass-market alternative, we are also concerned this Government runs the risk of running the oil companies out of town by failing to understand they are commercial businesses that need to make profits, not benevolent societies.

If this Government really wants to make a difference at the pump, they may want to consider their high tax take on fuel and their role in creating a competitive wholesale market before they criticise the fuel companies.

And they need to be clear on their messaging and make announcements that are actually about doing something, not just more talk and blaming the previous Government for everything.

–  Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

The story behind the headline statistics

There’s an old adage: There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

As this Government continues to push a negative narrative around trucks and roads, favouring its investment in rail, public transport and cycle ways, we are seeing a lot of statistics being thrown around.

The Road to Zero consultation on road safety, released this week, is a bit of a case study.

In Focus Area 3, Work-related road safety, firstly, it says: While trucks are not involved in significantly more crashes/km than other types of vehicles, these crashes are far more likely to be fatal, accounting for over 20 percent of road deaths. This is a highlighted statistic.

There are no details such as, who was at fault? What caused the crash? If a car crosses the centre line and crashes into a truck, sheer physics tells you the car will come off second best. But this does not mean the truck driver was at fault. Also, that leaves another 80 percent of road deaths caused by something else.

The discussion document goes on to say: We need to improve our understanding of the size of the challenge. To properly address the problem of work-related road safety, we need to clearly understand it. While we can piece together data from a range of sources to get an understanding of the total level of harm, we do not currently have the full picture of the key risks at play and harms that are occurring. Improving this data will help us to better target our efforts on work-related road safety, giving us a better understanding of the causes of work-related crashes, the types of vehicles involved, and the industries and sectors that have the highest levels of harm. There are also opportunities to work with the private sector to better share and coordinate work-related road safety information.

We agree with this. Let’s look at all the data before throwing stones. Let’s get the full picture behind the headline statistics.

Unfortunately, we live in an era where the headline wins and no one cares about the rest of the story.

Another case in point happened last week (12 July), with Justice Minister Andrew Little quoted as saying professional drivers who kill on New Zealand roads should be held to a higher legal standard of accountability than other road users. This is despite there being three existing laws that already allow this. The Road Transport Forum (RTF) has asked Minister Little to provide evidence to back his opinion.

While the Government stresses its focus on road safety, it rejects investment in quality roads. It’s not just truck drivers pointing out the poor design of some roads, and the dangerous deterioration of others.

The Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council says New Zealand is at an “infrastructure crisis point” and advocates for the 12 roading projects presently on hold or under review to proceed, possibly with private investment. But the Transport Minister Phil Twyford says that would be “really bad policy”. He says none of those roads would have enough traffic on them to pay for them. By that count, the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which had a 0.8 benefit/cost ratio, would never have been built.

This Government’s approach to road safety can be confusing and conflicting. It seems to be captured by the “climate emergency” agenda and a desire to get any fossil-fuelled vehicles off the roads. That’s all very well if you live in the centre of a big city and have choice. But it takes choice away from those of us who live in the suburbs, provinces and rural New Zealand and those who drive the economy by getting the exports we rely on to survive, to market.

The full suite of transport modes that don’t rely on fossil-fuels simply do not exist. And it remains to be quantified just what it will cost to run everything on electricity, and if there is even the capacity in New Zealand.

The Road to Zero name is in itself, confusing. Zero implies none, yet the strategy aims to cut road deaths by 40 percent in the next decade. This is a laudable goal and the RTF will be making a submission.

Discussion doesn’t mean we don’t fully support a road safety plan that reduces deaths and harm. It means we want to hold this Government to account on its road safety promises.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum