Surface Logistics industry hit by truck drivers’ shortage

(Ground Zero Report)

Better wages, social status, a prosperous future in demand

National Highway number 44, country’s longest highway connecting Srinagar to Kanyakumari passes through Madhya Pradesh’s largest division Rewa, once a highly sought princely state known as Vindhya.

Around 25 years ago the area rich in mineral reserve was eyed by industrialists and now is dotted with cement production plants in almost every district of the region. At some places, the rapid industrialisation has led to environmentalists raising concerns.

Truck drivers’ shortage: Drivers hard to find

Vindhya region through its cement producing units in Rewa, Satna, Maihar, Singrauli and Sidhi areas has become a bulk supplier of cement in and out of Madhya Pradesh. The units churn limestone day and night to keep the production running. As factory kilns relentlessly produce cement the queue of trucks outside the storage trucks keeps growing.

But the growing queue of trucks is a concern for transporters instead of being a prosperous sign. Vinod Singh a transporter said “Logistics is an issue. My five trucks to Uttar Pradesh are parked idle because I cannot find good drivers. If supply is delayed, I will suffer, I have already accepted the stock and cannot put it back.”

What Singh is facing has become a crisis across the country affecting a large number of businessmen, transporters and traders. Experts say Logistics is the tail of commerce and trucking is the tip of the tail. And here in India, the issue of organising logistics supply chain in the country goes un-talked even when the country is drenched in elections.

Singh said, “These days finding a trustworthy and skilled driver is like finding a needle in a haystack. These days nobody wants to drive trucks except unskilled youngsters for whom it is a better way than daily labour work.”

Do truck drivers exist in society?

First of all, being a driver has never been a respected profession in our society and the case of truckers is worse. In countries like USA, Canada and Brazil, there are documentaries/TV shows that glorifying long haul freight drivers as heroes and the job is seen as a respectable one.

Pankaj Tripathi, manager of Vinayak transport company in Rewa said “My company deals with around 300 trucks on a daily basis in the city alone. Every day around 4-5 truck owners, other drivers come to me asking if I could arrange a driver for them.”

He said, “At least 20 per cent of truck drivers on road are unskilled and are without licences or training. These are youngsters who seek quick bucks or are forced. Experienced drivers are not so common these days. Pointing out the rank of a truck driver in the society, he said drivers are never treated with dignity or respect, its like they just don’t exist in the society.”

Mahender, a driver in his 50’s said “What do we get after all these years? Nothing. If I become a security guard at least there I will have an EPF account which I don’t get here. Do you think I will allow my future generations to become a truck driver like a doctor wants his son to become a doctor? No, I will not. He would better be a clerk because it is not a respectable job, everyone thinks they can insult a truck driver.”

Neglected health and remuneration

For years the remuneration in the trucking sector has not improved much. As per industry estimates average monthly earning for an experienced truck driver is around Rs 25,000 to Rs 30, 000. Which is not more than that of a Taxi driver who has ease to enjoy some family time.

While being away from home and family for a long time afflicts the driver mentally and overclocking of job hours and racing against the clock for bonuses for before/on time delivery affects the physical condition of a truck driver. Adding to which is unhygienic food, lack of sleep, unhealthy sleeping environment and sexually transmitted diseases.

For the sake of welfare, the union government in 2017 through National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had launched a free eye check-up drive for truck drivers from October 2 to October 6, 2017. During the drive total 16, 038 drivers and assistants were where 8, 188 eye lenses were distributed.

Uday Sharma, Director – Sales, Spoton Logistics said integrated efforts are needed to cope up with the issue. He said that different related business segments should come together to address this concern.

“Truckers are the backbone of the logistics industry and the vocation of a truck driver needs an urgent makeover. Attractive salary packages, better highways and roads, safe and insured working conditions, healthcare, clean and hygienic rest house facilities and regulated working hours are some of the ways the shortage can be addressed.”

Uday Sharma, Director – Sales, Spoton Logistics

Explaining driver welfare measure of Spoton Logistics, Uday said “Each vehicle is manned by two drivers who drive in turns of 150 kilometres, allowing rest for both. Since we run an outsourced fleet, the vendor is penalized if he does not provide a backup driver. Out central management team ensures rest for a driver with a driving time of not more than 9 hours in a single stretch.

Social security is a question

The issue of social security remains dominant in the sector. While there is no future security there is a huge lack of awareness among drivers. The centre in Lok Sabha replying to a query in 2018 had said drivers are entitled to ESIC and PF as per labour rules. Other schemes under which drivers are covered are Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, National Family Benefit Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana.

The industry veteran, Mahendra Shah, Managing Director and CEO, V-Trans India Ltd also noted that the industry is grappling with a severe truck drivers’ shortage.

“While the profession is highly demanding and not glorious at all. Self-driving trucks are still far-fetched in India until infrastructure is met with thus the demand of truckers will be growing.”

Mahendra Shah, Managing Director and CEO, V-Trans India Ltd

When it comes to family responsibilities average earnings of truck drivers in India is very less as compared to Western countries. Social status, dignity, better compensation, incentives, health insurances and education for children are some measures that can make the job lucrative.

Chirag Katira, another expert said “Currently we have a ratio of 1000:700 trucks between drivers respectively in the country. Hence there is a dearth of 300 drivers. Mental setup of the society should change towards a truck driver as Logistics industry after agriculture generates maximum employment.” Katira said “At SNGT we ensure sanitation equipped crossing hubs, sleeping pad for drivers, clean and hygienic canteen. Branches are located at every 200 km for drivers to rest, also we try to give them load for the home destination so that they can spend the night at home.”

Chirag Katira, Director, Shree Nasik Goods Transport Co Pvt Ltd

Highlighting the welfare measures of V-Trans, Shah said there are three generations of a family working with us as drivers. Regular health check-camps, medical awareness camps, healthy meals at transport hubs, sessions by Brahma-Kumaris for relieving mental stress and adhering to rules are some of the best practices opted. He said apart from standard operating rules for safety we ensure a healthy balance between social and professional life is necessary for a trucker as he spends a lot of time away from the family.

Huge economy needs all around efforts

Industry experts believe that the introduction of schemes employment guarantee schemes and self-employment options has also played a role in truck drivers’ shortage. Although there is no official government data on the shortage of truck drivers the industry estimates that the availability is neck and neck. The current ratio of truck and driver has reached almost equal.

In all hopes are pinned on the governments and industry as the crisis is looming fast. India is still heavily reliant on road transport with sizeable stake more than 3 percent in the country’s GDP. Road infrastructure is improving, but the condition of truckers is not. With such a huge chunk in the economy, a new boost for sure is needed to improve the condition of truck drivers’ shortage and get the drivers back to business.

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