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Container haulage driver shortages are the result of a combination of shipping lines forcing hauliers to accept sky-high rates and the sale of driver services as a product you can buy off a ‘haulage supermarket’ shelf.

Driver pay has been kept low through supply and demand mechanics that are beneficial to large haulage companies, the shipping lines and their customers.

One large haulier acknowledged that part of the justification probably came from there having “always been a lot of capacity”, leading to competition on rates.

However, he said this perception had radically changed over the years, particularly with the twin shocks of Brexit and the pandemic, the latter causing heightened demand from supermarkets for drivers, leading to the “supply and demand balance altering” in truckers’ favour.

“Covid opened our eyes; supermarkets are offering drivers standard rates and hours that are very attractive, as it means they know where they’ll be all week,” said the haulier.

Another told The Loadstar: “Drivers were made a commodity, they know they were commoditised, now they’re using it to their advantage. We’ve lost drivers to these other lines of business because they do not need to worry about some of the issues that arise when working in container haulage.”

Some smaller hauliers suggested large firms were subject to the same forces that make it hard for them to pay their drivers what “they’re really worth”.

One explained: “Our wage rates are largely dictated by shipping lines that say ‘if you want our work, you work for our tariffs’. This is the reason driver wages haven’t increased, and that’s why you’re now seeing the driver shortage. Those birds have come home to nest.”

Even so, drivers said large firms had continued to “take the piss” over the years, paying drivers in the region of £10 an hour, adding “and if we can pay £15, they can meet that”.

The large haulier seemingly agreed, noting: “There’s not one fix to driver shortages, but on the financial side, reviewing driver pay is one thing we can do.”

He said hauliers must face up to their own role in the ever-worsening driver shortage plaguing western Europe if they were to both fix it and prevent a recurrence.

“You can work on a checkout at Morrisons and get £10 an hour, or you can drive a 44-tonne truck, with all that entails, for us and find yourself on a lower rate. Now, you’re seeing hauliers react to this and they are forcing the rates up.”

Over the past fortnight, many drivers have told The Loadstar the big hauliers have been the most exploitative since the turn of the century.

One former driver moved into warehouse work after low rates of pay left him feeling “shit”, while another driver/operator said such stories were not unique but it was perhaps “unique naivety” that the larger hauliers did not foresee future drivers being put off.

“If you pay a driver £10.35 a day, you can’t be surprised if the workforce dries up, this is why they cannot get any drivers,” the driver told The Loadstar.

“Including night-out money and meal allowance, these large hauliers pay their tramping lads £30,000 a year. We’re much smaller and our drivers are on £45,000 a year. But now, with the shortage, they [larger hauliers] have deep pockets and it’s threatening those who have treated drivers well.”

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  • Dave Holladay

    July 15, 2021 at 6:01 pm

    40 years ago I maintained a pioneering facility, where we had a happy local haulier, with all his drivers & tractors working local rules – home at night – all breakdowns sorted with own staff &c, and sent tanks and containers with whisky from Speyside to bottling & blending plants in Glasgow … by rail

    Scroll forwards and we now have the Tesco Trains (other brands are available) running scheduled daily services with up to 30 intermodal boxes at 75mph (vs 56 mph), no 45 minute (x30) breaks, with 2-3 drivers (vs 30), and major logistics operators like Malcolm Group aiming to almost eliiminate trunk haulage, with ‘local’ trip working for the final (40) mile(s)

    Smarter folk also look at moving the product with a more agnostic view on the actual vehicle or mode. I was involved in early stages of IntercityRailfreight, now with a decade of proof of concept, but still stymied by the corporate inertia of the rail industry, and government – such that its been 3 years since we had initial meetings with Scotrail and Scottish Government (TS) about using the new electric trains, and 42 (39 is possible) minute Edinburgh-Glasgow service and fast final mile for premium packages (c.90% of courier deliveries in cities weigh under 30Kg)

    On the retail logistics front we now have 2 operators ready to roll with refurbished 100mph commuter trains, kitted out to carry the standard wheeled ‘cage-pallets’ (6-8 trucks-worth) with train paths already pencilled in and existing/mothballed locations where these can be transferred for dispersal using vehicles better matched to the individual stores, and possibly using 1 vehicle & driver to carry out a series of 30 second load-drops/collects, with store staff unloading/loading

    The intermodal approach might also look at construction, using a standard half-height 20ft box with a skeletal vehicle to import bulk materials, and ship-out waste, offering a safer loading/higher payload option to the regular 32T tipper whilst reducing the number of ’empty’ vehicle movements. These boxes can also be moved in bulk by rail or water with a basic 1-5km road haul making maximum use of a much smaller number of trucks & drivers.

    There are some interesting sites – one, with a live, connected rail freight siding is under 1Km from Euston Road, and can connect with a commercial estate, which includes a Booker warehouse, and several fresh food wholesalers

    In my part of the country there is a mothballed freight line closer to a retail park than some of its car parking, and another has a rail line with space for a siding along their shared boundary

    Don’t ignore water either – some fairly large loads can move well inland, often using the standard ‘Euro-Barge’ sizes, that can be more quickly obtained than a bespoke vessel

    Happy to discuss this with anyone interested in developing these ideas – a long career in engineering, transport problem solving but always asking what that way?

    Dave Holladay

  • Gary Gilmore

    July 18, 2021 at 1:10 pm

    I work any 5 from 7 days a week..1 weekend in 4 off..
    Different start time every day..work every Bank Holiday..
    Flexibility for the ‘Operational needs of the Business’
    And I’ve got it easy!!