NZ Truck & Driver News

 
The storm, the calm…. the essentials, the love

The storm, the calm…. the essentials, the love

NZ Truck & Driver News

 May 2020   
Paradoxically, in this state of emergency, first came the storm…before the calm: A mad rush of panic-buying stretched New Zealand's supply chain to its limits, before the country's unprecedented COVID-19-induced four-week lockdown.

Of course, the effects of this new coronavirus that started-up in Wuhan, China, had already been hurting Kiwi log truck operators for a month or more before then – the log export trade having been one of the virus' first NZ casualties.

But then, at the end of March, the public's rush to stockpile supplies before the midnight March 25 lockdown triggered something completely different for the NZ road transport industry.

It was so extreme that the National Road Carriers Association started a register of drivers retired or not currently working, who could be called on at short notice to do extra shifts….keep the supermarket supply chain working.

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Paradoxically, in this state of emergency, first came the storm…before the calm: A mad rush of panic-buying stretched New Zealand's supply chain to its limits, before the country's unprecedented COVID-19-induced four-week lockdown.
Of course, the effects of this new coronavirus that started-up in Wuhan, China, had already been hurting Kiwi log truck operators for a month or more before then – the log export trade having been one of the virus' first NZ casualties.
But then, at the end of March, the public's rush to stockpile supplies before the midnight March 25 lockdown triggered something completely different for the NZ road transport industry.
It was so extreme that the National Road Carriers Association started a register of drivers retired or not currently working, who could be called on at short notice to do extra shifts….keep the supermarket supply chain working.
It helped in specific cases, but as one operator pointed out, in most circumstances it wasn't so much that there weren't enough trucks or drivers….more a matter of the manufacturers, the distribution centres…the whole supply chain being unable to keep up with the speed that toilet paper, flour, booze etc was flying off the shelves.
The empty-cupboard angst continued into the first week of lockdown – driving that sector of the road transport industry that services supermarkets to crazy-busy levels.
After that, the lockdown's effects within Kiwi trucking largely came down to the significance of just three words: Essential….and non-essential. 
A large part of NZ's fleet of at least 23,000 road freight trucks ended up parked – unable to cart loads considered non-essential (including timber, building supplies, construction materials, all sorts of export products and much more).
An industry that normally employs over 32,000 people (a good one in 50 of the workforce) and generates more than $6billion as it transports 93% of the stuff freighted annually in NZ, was dramatically cut back – down to keeping supermarkets, service stations, dairies, hospitals, medical centres, chemist shops and so on going.
From the outset, industry leaders warned that this essential/non-essential categorisation just didn't work – that it was going to quickly cause "massive problems." 
Explained Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett: "All manner of freight can be on one ship – and even within one container. To make way for the cargo to go on that ship so it can leave – and for all the other cargo coming in at the same time – freight needs to be constantly moved off the ports." But if it was considered to be non-essential, it couldn't be moved.
While transport operators, the RTF and National Road Carriers were grappling with these challenges (see story on Page 3 for the resolution of this issue), truck drivers themselves were dealing with other realities of working life under lockdown.
Sure, trip times around our cities were dramatically reduced – and truckies reckoned they could go days without even once being carved-up by a single motorist!
On the other hand they were the ones out there risking their own health to keep the country running. And dealing with new necessities – like sometimes having to work in disposable overalls, masks and gloves….as well as always keeping a safe distance from others. Even, in some cases, having to sign declarations every time they entered food suppliers' premises – stating that they hadn't travelled overseas in the past two weeks. 
And while the truck drivers carting essential freight were "doing jobs they love," as Leggett pointed out, they were also "more isolated than usual….from their whānau and colleagues."
And he added: "Our economy and wellbeing are tethered to trucking. My view is that these workers and transport operators have not perhaps had the recognition and thanks they deserve."
Not only missing out on recognition – but not even getting the basics! As one linehaul freight driver alerted NZ Truck & Driver, while these essential workers were out there on our behalf……they were being denied essentials of their own.
Like meals: With takeaways, cafes, pubs and restaurants all closed under the terms of the lockdown, drivers suddenly found themselves short of a place to stop and have a feed.
And, worse still, like toilets: Some gas stations were refusing to let truckies use their loos – and most councils, it seemed, had closed their public toilets.
And so, as our informant explained, it meant that "we have absolutely NO toilet facilities from when we leave our depots (or where we start from), until we get to our destinations. 
"This, in some cases, might mean…..from Auckland to Wellington. Over 10 hours and 600 kilometres!"
Unhappily, truckies said, the only solution was relieving themselves on the roadside – in bushes or even in buckets.
Maybe it was just because toileting – or toilet paper, at least – had been so front-of-mind with the nation during the pre-lockdown panic-buying spree….but this sorry business struck a chord. The media, the public…everyone, it seemed, was (for once) on truckies' side.
Kids responded to NZ Truck & Driver's Facebook page We Love NZ Truckers callout, with home-made signs – put up alongside main roads. 
Gull and Mobil service stations said truckies could use their toilets…and National Road Carriers put up a list of public toilets that were open nationwide.
Along with the usually taken-for-granted supermarket workers, distribution centre sorters, packers and forklift drivers, rest home carers, doctors and nurses, truckies were suddenly elevated to everyday hero status – here (and, in fact, all around the world).
At last, it seemed, the public fully appreciated the truth of that longtime industry message – that trucks deliver….everything!
If only you could bottle some of this recognition and respect and save it for other times – when trucks are so often blamed for everything from clogging and wrecking the roads, to killing motorists…and, of course, destroying the environment.
As Nick Leggett wryly observed two weeks into Level 4: "How interesting that three of the most vilified groups in NZ pre-COVID-19 – farmers, truck drivers and immigrants – are now the ones holding the country's economy together.
"Our industry has yet again stepped up to meet need – these are the people who are keeping supermarket shelves stocked, and medicine and equipment going into hospitals and pharmacies."
NRC chief executive David Aitken pointed out that this is simply what the trucking industry does in emergencies: "The road transport sector stood up and shone during previous crises, like the Kaikoura and Christchurch earthquakes, to ensure communities get essential supplies."
National leader Simon Bridges did a shoutout to truckies, saying: "I just want to recognise everything you are doing at the moment to keep our country moving – to keep food in our supermarkets, to keep medicines in our hospitals. I greatly appreciate it. A big thumbs-up to our truckers, who keep NZ going."
Around the same time, in the United States President Donald Trump honoured America's truck drivers at The White House.
As the US death toll from COVID-19 climbed to 34,000, with 680,000 confirmed cases – and just hours before he controversially announced (many critics said recklessly), that it was time for America "to open up" for business again – Trump told a handful of invited drivers and trucking industry execs he wanted to celebrate "some of the heroes of our nation's great struggle against the coronavirus: Our brave, bold, and incredible truckers.
"At a time of widespread shutdowns, truck drivers form the lifeblood of our economy…..the absolute lifeblood.  
"For days (and sometimes weeks) on end, truck drivers leave their homes and deliver supplies that American families need and count on during this national crisis – and at all other times.  
"They're always there: Their routes connect every farm, hospital, manufacturer, business and community in the country.
"In the war against the virus, American truckers are the foot soldiers who are really carrying us to victory."
And he added: "To every trucker listening over the radio or behind the wheel, I know I speak for the 330 million-plus Americans that we say: 'Thank God for truckers.  That'll be our theme: Thank God for truckers.' "  


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