NZ Truck & Driver News

 
Government accused of COVID pain

Government accused of COVID pain

NZ Truck & Driver News

 October 2021   

Transport operators working during the COVID-19 lockdowns have been riled by what they say is a lack of timely Government planning, seriously affecting the industry’s ability to carry out essential work.

From the outset, the change to Level 4 was problematic, as Nick Leggett, CEO of Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand (the new name for the Road Transport Forum) outlined.

NZ’s low vaccination rate and the threat of the Delta strain of COVID-19 arriving here should have meant the Government had a plan to quickly deal with any outbreak, Leggett suggested – but added: “We certainly aren’t seeing evidence of that.”

Even before the nationwide L4 lockdown, the industry wasn’t being considered, he complained: “In an emergency situation, truck drivers are frontline workers. Yet, despite our attempts to get them higher up the vaccination queue, we have been directed by the Minister in charge to look at a Government website and wait our turn.”

And then came the actual L4 lockdown – with the industry, despite it including trucking operations running 24-seven, given “no real notice of what the operating rules would be for this Level 4 lockdown….particularly as we have been told this Public Health Order cancels out all the previous ones.”

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Transport operators working during the COVID-19 lockdowns have been riled by what they say is a lack of timely Government planning, seriously affecting the industry’s ability to carry out essential work.

From the outset, the change to Level 4 was problematic, as Nick Leggett, CEO of Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand (the new name for the Road Transport Forum) outlined.

NZ’s low vaccination rate and the threat of the Delta strain of COVID-19 arriving here should have meant the Government had a plan to quickly deal with any outbreak, Leggett suggested – but added: “We certainly aren’t seeing evidence of that.”

Even before the nationwide L4 lockdown, the industry wasn’t being considered, he complained: “In an emergency situation, truck drivers are frontline workers. Yet, despite our attempts to get them higher up the vaccination queue, we have been directed by the Minister in charge to look at a Government website and wait our turn.”

And then came the actual L4 lockdown – with the industry, despite it including trucking operations running 24-seven, given “no real notice of what the operating rules would be for this Level 4 lockdown….particularly as we have been told this Public Health Order cancels out all the previous ones.”

While truckies got on with the job regardless, many were confronted with the same problems they faced in last year’s lockdown: Sparse access to food and toilets on main freight routes…

And no Government extension for drivers’ licences, endorsements and the likes of Certificates of Fitness that were expiring during the lockdown. 

Leggett asked for Government action to address that issue – just as it had in April last year, when a Government Order granted extensions. 

But 16 days later, he was still demanding action: The lack of it, he said, was putting transport operators’ insurance at risk – leaving them “with potentially business-destroying liability.”

The situation could “take essential workers – truck drivers and their trucks – off the road at a time when they’re most needed,” he pointed out. The only response was that “it’s complex.”

Leggett said that about 1000 CoFs expire each day – “so, 16 days on, that’s potentially as high as 16,000 (trucks without current certification). We understand that even in Level 3 areas, where there is limited ability to get CoFs renewed, that’s a high volume to process – and it’s banking up by the day.”

Added Leggett: “Being told by the Government that the Police will go easy on truck drivers whose licences have expired and/or whose CoFs have expired means absolutely nothing.” 

That is, he said, “missing the point: A fine from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is not the same as losing a $500,000 truck in an accident – and finding the insurance company says you’re not insured because you don’t have the right paperwork and/or the driver was not licenced to drive.”

The Government, he said again, “should be getting better at this, but each day feels like Groundhog Day!”

Finally, on September 10, Transport Minister Michael Wood announced that driver licences, Warrants of Fitness (WoFs), CoFs, vehicle licences and licence endorsements that expired on or after July 21 will be valid until November 30.

Leggett said: “We couldn’t be happier.”

By then though the industry was dealing with another poorly planned Government COVID initiative – announcing that truckies and other workers crossing the Auckland borders would need to have been COVID tested within the previous seven days.

The industry, said Leggett, had been “blindsided” by the move – hearing about it first from the news media, then having it denied as official policy by the Ministry of Transport…only to then have it confirmed by Government. All of this “without any engagement with the industry.”

Unsurprisingly that angered transport operators, Leggett complaining that such Government behaviour threatened the viability of the supply chain, “at a time when, for most NZers, it is critical that it works like the well-oiled machine it is – without politicians and health officials from Wellington interfering.”

The problem, said Leggett, was not the testing – if that’s what is needed to keep NZers safe from COVID-19: “What we don’t like is being blindsided by law changes on the fly, with no explanation of how they are supposed to work….even after the law came into play.”

It was done with “no consultation whatsoever with those most impacted – truck drivers delivering essential goods all around NZ.

“Understandably, there was a lot of stress in our industry – a new testing regime was coming into force this week, with spot testing to begin…

“But absolutely no word from Government how this would work for operators and truck drivers, who work long hours – including outside the hours testing stations and GPs operate. There was no information on how to prove testing had taken place.

“Even the Police are scratching their heads about how they are going to police this – stopping one in 10 trucks and potentially having to safely turn them around if the driver cannot prove they have been tested in the past seven days.”

The “lack of any process or plan from the Government” saw the testing regime delayed until September 17 (after this issue of NZ Truck & Driver went to print).

As that deadline approached, Leggett said some operators had “started setting up their own testing systems, hoping the Government will accept them – when they finally get around to presenting a plan and a process and what they want as proof.

“Someone in Government needs to show some leadership and take this in hand – now,” said Leggett.

National Road Carriers also declared itself “very disappointed in the way this has been handled by Government and we share the frustration of the membership....” Their complaints, said NRC, had been made clear to Government officials – along with a call to urgently advise on a plan.  


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