German Trucker Shortage Swells Transporters’ Wage Costs
Freight companies are struggling to raise the appeal of commanding a heavy truck along Germany’s highways as an increasing shortage of drivers pushes up the cost for transport in Europe’s biggest economy.
The perks of the open road are fading fast as bureaucracy and regulation mount, journey times lengthen and inhabitants of the world’s second-largest export nation prefer to pursue careers outside the solitary confines of a 10-foot lorry cab.
“There’s a serious driver shortage in Germany,” said Gerard van Kesteren, chief financial officer of Kuehne & Nagel International AG (KNIN), which operates 10,000 trucks and trailers and counts BMW AG and Airbus SAS as customers. “It means we have to pay somewhat more to get drivers, and because the margins are so thin we have to pass this additional cost on to clients.”
Demographic trends are set to deepen the squeeze, with 40 percent of Germany’s professional truckers due to retire in the next decade, according to a study by ZF Friedrichshafen AG, a German car-parts supplier. One ready source of labor has also dried up with the suspension of compulsory military service, which had provided one in five of the country’s commercial vehicle operators with their licenses.
The increase in personnel costs comes with margins already under pressure after diesel spot prices rose more than fourfold over the past 10 years, and increasingly prevalent road tolls.
At Schindellegi, Switzerland-based Kuehne & Nagel, the world’s No. 1 sea-freight forwarder, which counts Germany as its largest market, the rail and road transport business was the only unprofitable one among four operating units last year.
German rail company Deutsche Bahn AG’s DB Schenker unit, the largest supplier of overland transport in Europe, has resorted to a radio campaign to attract new truckers, while also approaching high school graduates as potential “captains of country roads,” emphasizing both the demanding nature of long-distance driving and what it calls the “romance” of trucking.
Recruitment has been complicated by German laws introduced in 2009 that compel would-be drivers to garner qualifications in areas such as customs formalities and fuel-efficient driving, as well as in traffic laws and road safety, according to Schenker spokesman Peter Sauer. Total costs for gaining a license can reach 8,000 euros ($10,700); people caught working without the necessary certificates can be fined 5,000 euros.
“It takes three years of training to become certified, and our guys are not stupid truckers,” he said. Drivers required to transport dangerous goods must pass further tests.
The situation has been exacerbated by the decision to halt conscription in 2011, Sauer said, with the military previously issuing as many as 30,000 trucking licenses a year and veterans being admitted to the profession with minimal extra coursework.
Berlin-based Schenker, which had 2012 sales of 6.42 billion euros, employs more than 17,000 truckers, about 10,000 of them in countries where advanced qualifications are required.
At Kuehne & Nagel, the road and rail division’s losses have totaled 148 million Swiss francs ($161 million) over seven years before interest and tax, even as it boosted sales 66 percent and more than doubled its headcount to about 8,400 people.
The dearth of German drivers has prompted an influx of foreign competitors, with European Union companies able to operate throughout the bloc since a law change in 2007.
While that has pared the labor shortage, it has also cost Germany the equivalent of 15,000 trucks, depriving it of 75 million euros in annual tax receipts. It also undermines wage structures and professional standards, according to the BGL industry association, which says contracts are now often awarded via Internet auctions with less reference to quality than price.
Labor costs in some eastern EU nations average one-fifth the level in Germany, where they can amount to 50 percent of haulage companies’ expenses. Drivers from countries including Bulgaria and Romania are working in the region’s No. 1 economy “under nomadic conditions like migrant workers in China,” BGL Executive Director Karlheinz Schmidt said at its Frankfurt base.
In a knock-on effect, truckers from the Ukraine are working in Slovakia and companies in Latvia are hiring drivers from the Philippines in what amounts to illegal employment, he said. The BGL has responded with a pilot project to train 12 young people from Spain -- where unemployment stood at record levels in the first quarter -- to fill driving jobs in Stuttgart.
The truckers’ plight is spreading beyond Germany, according to a report from the European Transport Workers’ Federation, which conducted interviews on the working and living conditions of 1,000 non-resident truck drivers in Europe.
Foreign drivers are paid mainly according to distance and delivery times, incentivizing them to ignore rest periods, the study said. Drivers tend to live in their cabs at weekends, with little access to sanitation, and spend as many as three months on the road working an average 57.5 hours a week, it said.
“Illegal, inhuman practices tend to become the rule, and the bad players set the benchmark,” the report said.
BGL President Adalbert Wandt, who runs Braunschweig, north Germany-based trucking company Wandt, said there’s no easy way to turn the wages tide without a decline in standards.
“There are some scandalous practices,” he said. “So far we have a demographic problem, but if we don’t pay our drivers more we’ll also have a quality problem in the long run.”
Johannesburg - Nearly half a million heavy-duty truck and public transport drivers don’t have valid drivers’ documents for South African roads.
This shocking revelation - disclosed on Wednesday by the Road Traffic Management Corporation - has stunned Gauteng MEC for roads and transport Ismail Vadi.
Vadi has joined senior RTMC officials in urging the public transport owners to comply with the law or face heavy punishment for defaulting.
RTMC chief executive Makhosini Msibi said the corporation had found that nearly half-a-million professional drivers were operating without the proper documentation.
“The RTMC is warning freight and public transport operators that it plans to hold them liable for the failure of their drivers to renew their professional drivers’ permits,” Msibi said.
He said 433 973 expired professional driving permits were recorded on the national traffic information system on 31 December 2014 - representing 43.3 percent of all PDPs issued in South Africa.
OPERATORS TO BE HELD RESPONSIBLE
The RTMC said the provinces that recorded the highest increase in the number of expired PDPs were Gauteng with 366 761 or 49.8 percent, KwaZulu-Natal recorded 201 628 or 43.6 percent, and Northern Cape had 32 549 or 42.5 percent.
Msibi said: “Drivers are required to produce a medical fitness certificate and maintain a clean criminal record in order to obtain a professional driver’s permit.”
He warned that the Road Traffic Act placed a duty on operators to exercise proper control over their drivers and to ensure compliance with the law.
“It is the duty of the operator to ensure that both the driver and the vehicle are fit to be operating on a public road,” Msibi pointed out.
He vowed that all traffic departments in the country would step up their vigilance and investigate all major accidents to establish the compliance level of operators.
“This collaboration will be rolled out throughout the year, and unannounced inspections will be undertaken on operators’ premises to establish compliance levels.
“Habitual overloading offenders will be identified and stringent measures will be taken against those found to be unwilling to comply with the law,” Msibi said.
BOGUS MEDICAL CERTIFICATES
RTMC spokesman Simon Zwane said it would also be investigating the possibility that some of the drivers were obtaining bogus medical certificates to use the roads.
He mentioned that Swazi national Sanele Goodness May, who was charged with the killing of 24 people in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal, in September 2013, did not have a PDP.
Zwane said that formed part of the RTMC’s report and was used in the criminal docket.
May pleaded guilty to all 31 charges in November and was jailed for eight years and 10 months.
Isaac Wade Maruding, who was allegedly involved in a crash in Alberton in October, was charged with four counts of culpable homicide and one count of reckless and negligent driving.
Mike Goelst of Freighthaul Transport and Logistics Services urged truck drivers to comply with the law. He said it was up to the traffic department to enforce legislation.
New law to clarify alcohol grey area
Cape Town - New “zero booze” legislation is set to finally clear up the grey area of alcohol limits, banning drivers from even having a single drop of liquor before stepping behind the wheel.
And while politicians from both camps have welcomed the draft law, which was opened for public comment on Tuesday, some have warned that the extra case load of prosecuting more drunk drivers could place a huge burden on the country’s already strained court system, and may not be effective at all in curbing drunk driving.
The proposed new section of the Draft National Road Traffic Amendment states: “Driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs having a narcotic effect is prohibited.”
The proposal is that “no person shall on a public road (a) drive a vehicle, or (b) occupy the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle, the engine of which is running, while there is a concentration of alcohol in any specimen of blood taken from any part of his or her body.”
Current laws allow drivers to have up to 0.05g of alcohol per 100ml of blood, or 0.02g for professional drivers.
Tightening the legal limit has been a pet project for many of the ANC’s ministers, chief among them health minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who was calling for a complete ban on drunk driving in 2013.
‘CRASHES COST THE STATE BILLIONS’
Arrive Alive said research showed that 50 percent of people who died on South Africa’s roads had a blood alcohol level over the legal limit.
In January, transport minister Dipuo Peters confirmed that alcohol abuse played a significant role in more than 1368 fatal crashes over the festive season. She said crashes were “costing the state billions”.
In Cape Town, mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said the zero-tolerance approach would simplify enforcement.
Over the weekend, city traffic officials and metro police arrested 93 people for drunk driving across the city.
“Drivers will know that they can’t drink at all rather than trying to estimate their level before getting behind the steering wheel.”
But he said this didn’t address the underlying problem of motorists’ attitudes towards drunk driving.
“They don’t look at it as something abhorrent, just something they can get away with.”
Smith said the nature of the court system meant that most drunk drivers were able to deal with their cases behind closed doors without risk of friends and family finding out.
This is why he is still an advocate for LeadSA’s now-defunct “Name and Shame campaign” which was scrapped by the Road Traffic Management Corporation in the final hours before becoming a national initiative. The project was piloted in the Western Cape where it was used to publicise the names of motorists caught driving under the influence.
“It was an incredibly successful deterrent,” he said yesterday.
He argued that implementing the “zero booze” limit would require a huge investment of resources in the court system to accommodate the new case load for a minor improvement in safety, where a campaign such as “Name and Shame” would cost nothing.
DA spokesman for transport Manny de Freitas remained unconvinced that the new approach would help clarify the grey area of the current alcohol limits.
“The bottom line is that there is still a grey area, you can’t ban alcohol outright. There are medicines that contain trace amounts, what would you do then? It would register if there is any alcohol in your system and this would just gum up the courts with unnecessary cases.”
The Justice Project South Africa said it was a medical fact that some people would produce false-positive reads of blood and breath samples. Eating certain fruit, for example, could produce naturally occurring blood alcohol levels.
“The law needs to be further discussed and expanded on.”
A few countries have implemented the zero alcohol limit. In Nepal, for example, breathalyser testing is regularly used in major cities. Motorists testing positive will have their licences seized instantly, getting them back only after attending classes run by traffic police. They are also fined.
Malawi and Nigeria have zero-tolerance approaches to drunk driving, but statistics for alcohol-related deaths are inaccurate.
On social media, the reaction to the proposed law in this country has been mixed. An IOL reader wrote: “In general I support the notion - because there will be no more concept of ‘just one drink’ which then snowballs into more. People would hopefully be more responsible about selecting when and where they drink.”
Services such as Good Fellas, Home Heroes and Drive Wise - which provide designated drivers to ferry you home once you’ve had a few too many - have become increasingly popular over the past 10 years.
Good Fellas spokeswoman Alison Brussow said customers were becoming more aware of how alcohol impaired judgment.
Those who wish to comment on the new bill, and drink driving restrictions, have until 27 February to do so. The draft bill must also go through the parliamentary process. - The Argus
'Speeding, drinking biggest problems'
Cape Town - A motorist nabbed for speeding at 175km/h on the N1 freeway registered the highest speed since the launch of the Provincial Traffic Safety Campaign earlier in June.
At the launch traffic authorities announced a huge hike in traffic fines.
Department spokesman Al-Ameen Kafaar said 968 drivers had been screened for driving under the influence of alcohol, 18 of whom were arrested.
“The highest recorded speed was 175km/h in a 120km/h zone on the N1 in Brackenfell. A driver was fined for driving at 154km/h in a 100km/h zone on the N1 near Worcester and another for driving at 107km/h in a 80km/h zone on the N2 in Somerset West,” Kafaar said.
The highest alcohol reading was recorded in Knysna at 1.09mg/1000ml, which was four times the legal limit of 0.24mg/1000ml.
Kafaar said: “More than 12 000 vehicles were screened for speeding of which 1389 speeding offences were recorded. Some 228 fines were issued for various traffic violations ranging from driver to vehicle fitness to the amount of R135 800.”
Western Cape traffic chief Kenny Africa said there would be “an intensified” winter operation aimed at decreasing the number of fatalities on the road.
“We will continue to intensify our operations. Our main problem is the speeding and alcohol intake of motorists.”
More than 900 operations have been planned over the next three months which will focus on key areas.
A total of 317 people died on the province’s roads between June and August 2013, 20 more than during the same period in 2012.
Durban’s worst traffic offender owes R195K
Durban - Ten Durban minibus taxis owe the city R1.6 million in unpaid fines and the worst offender is the same Toyota Hiace that was used in the hijacking of a woman who was thrown off a bridge in 2009.
Last week eThekwini’s law enforcement body said it was owed R1.4 billion in fines. Topping the worst offenders’ list is GLAYER1ZN, which has 383 outstanding fines – totalling R195 200.
This vehicle made headlines in 2009 when it was reported as one of a group of taxis owing the city substantial fines.
The taxi was also the same one driven by Sibusiso Dlamini, the man convicted of throwing Kavisha Seevnarain off the Mkomazi River Bridge on the South Coast after hijacking her.
Seevnarain survived the ordeal, and Dlamini was sentenced to 40 years in prison. According to a police source, the taxi was registered to a Mr or Mrs Oliver, in Hillary.
Eugene Msomi, metro police spokesman, said taxi drivers had mastered the art of beating the system, making it very difficult for police to find offending drivers.
Despite the hefty fines accumulated by a particular taxi, the taxi owner could not be held accountable to pay the fines, he said.
“The fines fall on the driver, and while taxi owners are obliged to provide information and addresses of the offending drivers, it is an almost impossible task for police to track them down,” Msomi said.
Often the driver, when he had a lot of fines owing, left his job and moved to another owner.
Msomi said police stopped taxis that had outstanding fines, but often found the driver behind the wheel was not responsible for the fines.
“If we stop them and find that there are no outstanding fines or warrant of arrests for the driver, there is nothing we can do, and we let them go,” he said.
The offending drivers disappeared easily, often living in informal settlements, making the job of locating them difficult.
Msomi said the bottom line was that the system of collecting fines was inefficient, adding that government intervention would be welcomed.
Kwanele Ncalane, the provincial transport department’s spokesman, said a change in legislation was needed to force vehicle owners to take responsibility.
“We have been calling for a legislation change, so that owners can be held responsible, and the department has put forward amendments to the National Road Traffic Act,” he said.
An example he gave of the system’s failing was that if a vehicle was found unroadworthy, the driver was charged.
“But, we can’t say the owner is always to blame; there are some cases where the drivers are responsible.”
However, he said, in the case of taxis, there were certain taxi bosses who were only interested in profits, at the expense of the safety of their commuters.
Although taxis were in the forefront of infringing rules of the road, a portion of the fines owed were by ordinary citizens who simply failed to pay.
According to Stephen Tuson from the Wits University School of Law, this was a symptom of not establishing an “ethos of compliance” that was necessary in society.
“The attitude is, ‘If I can get away with it, I will try’,” he said.
Tuson added that the logistics of collecting the outstanding fines was a monumental task.
“If the majority of people start to break the law, it is impossible to deal with – the protocol system simply cannot handle it,” he said. - The Mercury
*** Update: In this article, The Mercury incorrectly stated that a taxi with the registration Glayer1ZN was used in the hijacking of Kavisha Seevnarain in 2009.
Although the taxi’s former driver, Sibusiso Dlamini, was convicted of the crime, the vehicle was not used to commit it. The error is regretted.