Employers need to be ready for training and development

Covid-19 has taught businesses the world over the need for an open mind and agility.

If we are looking for an upside of the virus that has crippled the world for a year and a half, it is that employers have become much more aware of the health and hopes of their employees.

Some employers have adjusted well, while others are trying to fight the tide and go “back to the way things were”.

It is pretty clear things will never go back to the way they were, particularly on the employment front.

New Zealand has a chronic shortage of workers due to our indefinitely closed border and aggressive immigration settings.

Workers have a different set of expectations to what they might have had at the start of 2020, pre-Covid.

The Road Transport Forum has discovered as we roll out our traineeship Te ara ki tua Road to success, that transport companies are no different to many others in New Zealand.

The New Zealand employment landscape has for many years shared that relaxed approach the country is famous for. People are promoted to management without any skills and training, but just by virtue of being there a long time or being related to someone who matters. Human resources is the short straw given to someone who was away at the time the straws were handed out. As long as people were turning up to work every day and were doing what they were told, no one bothered too much with caring about whether or not their employees were happy or wanted some kind of development and career progression. If they left, it was easy to replace them.

That landscape is now unrecognisable. It has been excavated big time. The unemployment rate for the March 2021 quarter is 4.7 percent. There are no new people coming into the country and some of the visa holders who are here are having to leave. It’s an employees’ market.

Younger people entering the job market have different expectations to their parents. They can afford to be selective and they vote with their feet.

Employers need to change quickly if they don’t want their businesses to suddenly be crippled by a shortage of workers. To take on trainees to ensure sustainability of their workforce, they need to have some basics in place.

A trainee needs training. Some of that will be provided externally, but the employers need someone in the company to train and/or mentor those new to the industry and wanting to learn all they can.

New Zealand presents a challenging environment for many people and their employers need to have enough human resources capability to deal with the fact that people have problems that can impact on their work. Dealing with those problems quickly is best for everyone.

Covid-19 has thrown up a few problems of its own, including burnout and stress.

We also have strict health and safety at work laws which hold boards, as well as chief executives, accountable. And the road freight transport industry is heavily regulated.

The RTF is doing all we can to get new people into the road freight transport industry and there is a lot of interest in the Te ara ki tua Road to success traineeship from both employers and potential trainees. Since we launched in April this year, 36 transport businesses have signed up and are either already working with their trainee(s) or awaiting an appropriate match. We have had 184 applicants sign up to become a trainee. We are very pleased with this progress in a couple of months of existence.

We need employers to be business ready for a trainee and we guarantee a few changes to accommodate new staff will be worth it in the long term.

As we all discovered during Covid, there is a lot of information for businesses on line, including from the Employment New Zealand website www.employment.govt.nz

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

A clear view of the road ahead

If you are not reading the tea leaves the Government are steeping then let me be clear, employers are facing some big challenges and our industry is going to have to make some changes.

Government policies are focused on training New Zealanders for employment before migrants, vastly restricting the number and “skills” of migrants, and ensuring higher pay and better conditions for employees. That’s before we even get to the environmental imperatives.

The employment landscape has also changed. It seems everyone wants to start as the boss, on the boss’s salary. With low unemployment and greater expectations, young people in the workforce are shopping around for the best deals and future prospects. They want work-life balance, qualifications, and recognition for doing well.

This groundswell is gathering momentum and if employers in road freight transport turn their backs on it, they will struggle to survive.

The average age of a truck driver today is 54. We need to be thinking about bringing through our future workforce, and the workforce behind that, and so on. We can’t do that if we just truck on the way we always have.

The Road Transport Forum (RTF) has been preparing for the changing landscape and last month, we formally launched the industry’s training programme, Te ara ki tua Road to success. We have worked with a number of government agencies to get this off the ground and got endorsement at the launch event from two Cabinet Ministers – Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni and Transport and Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood.

Government wants to see industries sorting their own issues, but they are also supportive of such moves.

I guess it’s just the New Zealand tall poppy syndrome, but it is disappointing when every positive step is met with derision by some in the industry. Road to success pays people while they train and earn recognised qualifications, and we opted to better the minimum wage with a liveable wage. Some people in the industry object to paying $21.50 an hour to secure their future workforce. The optics of that are not good.

The vitriol on social media platforms about truck driver wages and working conditions should be sounding warning bells and certainly don’t help to promote truck driving as a career choice for a new young and diverse cohort – at least only older people use Facebook.

The race to the bottom just makes the RTF’s role advocating for the best possible conditions for the road freight transport industry more difficult. But we operate on support from a coalition of the willing. Those who can see what’s ahead, rather than what’s in the rearview mirror, understand we need to show the Government and prospective employees a willingness to change.

We know we need to focus on more than just training. We need a safe and compliant industry focused on the future and ready for changes and challenges, the greatest of which will probably centre around carbon neutral goals. We think industry should work on solving its own issues rather than waiting for the big hand of government to direct terms and conditions.

That is why the RTF is working on developing a way the industry could be covered by an accord that meets the government’s requirements and makes the industry safe, compliant and attractive now, and into the future, for those young people looking for their next career move.

Let’s look forward as we consolidate our great industry transporting all the goods New Zealanders need.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Fair Pay Agreements not that fair

In Wellington it’s termed the “Friday dump”, when the Government puts out a press release it doesn’t want too much media attention on. Friday is a bit of an outlier in the media cycle, even in this time of 24-7 news online.

Last Friday (7 May), the Government put out such a press release, announcing one of the most significant changes to the nature of employer-employee relations in New Zealand in many decades. Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) will be on the legislative table this year, and law by next.

While this move to what could end up being compulsory unionism was a pre-election commitment by the Labour Party, we had hoped consideration would be given to the economic growth and improvement in productivity that will be required for New Zealand competing in a post-Covid world.

Centralised wage bargaining and compulsory unionism are the antithesis of growth and productivity.

Quite rightly, BusinessNZ issued a response saying “significant problems with planned Fair Pay Agreements have not been addressed, and the plan to implement them should be terminated”.

The Australian Fair Work Act, on which these FPAs are based, gives significant political power to the unions. It also puts many dollars in the pockets of employment lawyers who mop up for individuals after the unions leave them high and dry in individual disputes.

Unions are not interested in the individual. They exist to raise funds to back the Labour party so they can get laws like this passed.

In Australia that relationship seems to be crumbling. This week, The Australian reported that Victorian unions, representing 85,000 workers, will formally ask the Australian Labor Party to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in affiliation fees. The unions object to a legal argument from the ALP that affiliation fees are akin to donations, which means the unions cannot vote in ALP pre-selections. Unions pay a quarterly fee of $1.43 per member to be affiliated with Labor in Australia, bringing the fees for the seven unions close to $500,000 a year. On top of that, unions contribute major donations ahead of state and federal elections, with the CFMEU (Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union) contributing more than $1 million to Bill Shorten’s campaign in 2019, The Australian says.

So, let’s be very clear what this move is about – politics, and money for politics. I’m not critical of that in itself; it takes money to pay for campaigns and each side of politics takes money from respective support bases. I do think however, that there should be transparency in these things and we should call them for what they are. 

New Zealand’s minimum wage is among the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Generally, we have good, safe working conditions, all covered by existing laws. Compulsory unionism ended in New Zealand in 1991 – 30 years ago. We don’t want to turn back that clock because it is certainly not the worker who will gain from it.

The trucking industry is not heavily unionised, with good reason. Drivers want choices about how and when they work. Trucking varies tremendously between different companies, regions, freight types and vehicles used. National, or even regional awards, are not going to be flexible enough to allow for that variation, or to meet driver needs. With driver shortages, good drivers have flexibility and should see continued increases in their pay as a result. 

Unionising the workforce will not alleviate a worker shortage. Quite the opposite will occur; it will make the road freight industry less attractive to people who want flexibility, including women who are moving into our industry because they can start early and get home in time for the after-school run for their children.

We understand the Labour Party has the numbers to push this law through, ignoring submissions that oppose any aspects of it, which is the fortunate place of a party with all the power. But we back BusinessNZ in suggesting a voluntary approach to achieving the desired goals – minimum standards for all employees and employers in an industry or occupation – would be at least more consistent with New Zealand’s obligations under international labour law.

Our industry is working on the idea of developing an industry accord; a shared commitment between government and industry to ensure workforce conditions, supply, development and health and safety are all at desirable standards. This would be a voluntary sign-up, not compulsory.

You can read our submission on the 2019 discussion paper on Fair Pay Agreements here.

 – Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

An election like no other

Like the year 2020 generally, it felt like New Zealanders just wanted the election to be over and done with. That probably goes for the politicians too!

A weariness had set in over recent weeks, possibly because most people felt the overall result was ‘baked in’ and a forgone conclusion. Most of us knew there would be a Labour government in some form. The questions remained though, would they need the Greens and would Winston sneak over the line?

Full credit to Jacinda Ardern and her team, they won big. Kiwis recognised the hard work of the Government during the COVID crisis and they opted for stability. It is true that we will need stability as, in the view of the RTF, the worst of the crisis is ahead of us with the economic challenges we will face over the next few years.

Whether the PM chooses to enter into some kind of arrangement with the Greens or the Maori Party is open for discussion for a little while longer, although it has clearly been signalled that this will not be a coalition government.

It probably isn’t any secret that the RTF won’t be disappointed to see the Green Party out of transport. Their lack of understanding around the movement of freight, let alone a blatant antagonism towards roading, is palpable. That will be part of the PM’s balancing act.  

Of course, we are keen to work with whoever is selected transport minister; be it the incumbent Phil Twyford, who we enjoy engaging with, or somebody new. The opportunity for a transport sector accord, as suggested by Twyford and promoted by RTF, would be a really constructive way of partnering with the government around the challenges we face, including with workforce, skills, regulations and health and safety.  

Labour does need to do more than it did in its first term to meet business halfway. We are concerned with their proposed agenda when it comes to employment legislation; doing away with the owner driver or contractor driver model and forcing rules that will make it harder for our industry to keep delivering for New Zealand’s economic wellbeing.

We will keep up the fight for better roads. We know industry can have an impact here, given that our recent calls for an increase in the roading maintenance budget resulted in the Government increasing the amount spent by $100 million per annum for the next five years.

Finally, like all of the private sector, the road transport industry requires infrastructure investment to be delivered, not just announced. We will be eager champions of the roll-out of projects, both roading and others, as they will improve the ability of trucking operators to go about their work on safer roads, and will also provide work for industry members supporting the construction sector.

I consider that this election brings the road transport industry a lot of opportunities. We have a chance to put our renewed case, to both the Government and the public – as neither group understands as well as they could – what we do every day to keep New Zealand moving. We also have the opportunity to work alongside officials and politicians to propose opportunities for improved regulatory rules, safety outcomes and to build our workforce capability and supply through the Te ara ki tua Road to Success traineeship programme.

RTF will brief the incoming Minister of Transport on the key industry issues and I’ll report on the content of that briefing in the coming weeks. It will help set our agenda over the coming parliamentary term.     

  • Nick Leggett, CE, Road Transport Forum

Show me the money tree

As I look this week at another bunch of speed limit cuts around the country, I have to say, show me the money tree.

Anyone who thinks we should be slowing down the economy in the middle of a global pandemic that is putting companies out of business and workers out of jobs like never before, clearly has access to a money tree in the garden.

Driven by the ideological imperative of taking cars and trucks off the road to make way for cyclists and pedestrians, seldom does this decision-making consider economic impacts.

Commercial road users, who pay for their road use, feel the pain of reduced speeds on their bottom line. Time costs money. Slowing down freight on New Zealand roads costs everyone. And that’s in peace time. Now we face COVID-19 time when to survive, New Zealand is going to have to be able to move exports and imports as quickly and cost effectively as possible. That will be by road – 93% of the total tonnes of freight moved in New Zealand goes by road.

The Government continues to lower speed limits around the country in a piecemeal fashion, with no consideration of the big picture for those who move freight from one end of New Zealand to the other. Modelling showing a minute lost here and a minute lost there does not match the reality of extra hours on the road when you are criss-crossing regions with wildly varying speed limits.

We appreciate that in some cases, lowering speed limits might well have an impact in reducing the road toll. But time and time again, in our submissions and meetings with those who have already decided to lower the speed limits before they go out for consultation, we hit a brick wall when we talk about driver behaviour being the cause of death and injury on the roads. That’s drugs, alcohol, distraction and ability. A lot of government research focuses not on the cause of the accident, but why there was an impact severe enough to result in death. If you look at it that way, the law of physics suggests any speed of a moving vehicle will be a problem.

The sole focus on speed limits will do more harm than good.

I discovered this week we are not a lone voice. Northland Age editor Peter Jackson penned a well-written piece about speed limit reductions in Northland. He said:

“If the Government really wants to make back roads safer it will have to seal them, widen them, and get rid of more corners than anyone can begin to count.

“That’s not going to happen, but reducing speed limits is not a reasonable alternative. Rather it is yet another exercise in wasting money for no benefit. Worse, it could have the opposite effect to that intended.”

Quite rightly, Mr Jackson points out that rates will be diverted to: “be wasted on a forest of speed limit signs that most will ignore”.

He goes on to suggest: “What Parliament needs is a special Common Sense Unit, whose role will be to weed out the dumb ideas before they start costing money on projects that won’t work.”

You can read the editorial Are speed limits the answer? here. We concur with Mr Jackson.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Death and taxes

We’ve all learned a lot from the Covid-19 experience so far. No matter how resilient a business thought they were, months of no work, or severely reduced business, hits the bottom line and for those who can stay operating, costs have to be cut. We can see that in the number of people being laid off work every day.

Road freight transport has played a critical role in keeping New Zealand moving through the various stages of lockdown. Trucking will be equally important through the economic recovery as New Zealand will be heavily reliant on export goods making their way to markets around the world.

Trucking operators have adapted through the various restrictions imposed by Government and have done their best to keep some kind of business going and people employed.

Economic recovery is a long way off. While the trucking industry continues to respond quickly and well to the challenges presented by Covid-19, everyone has taken hits during New Zealand’s lockdown, and the hits keep coming.

Like all businesses, trucking companies want to get back to full operations as soon as possible, recover their losses as quickly as they can, and keep good people employed.

The challenge ahead for trucking operators that already work with tight margins will be the ability to absorb, or pass on, increasing costs when all businesses are tightening their belts.

This is why the RTF is asking the Government to again consider the increase to Road User Charges (RUC) of 5.3% on 1 July 2020. Back in April the Government said no to our first request to stop this increase, but the business environment is now even worse.

I am aware that trucking companies with customer agreements that allow them to negotiate increases on Government imposed charges are finding, in spite of contractual obligations, those customers are saying no to adding the RUC increase into costs.

If trucking companies cannot pass on this cost, they will have to absorb it. For some that will impossible in this environment.

New Zealanders are struggling to make ends meet, and businesses are trying to get back on their feet in the worst economic conditions most of us have seen in our lifetimes. No one can sustain increased costs. Yet if this tax goes ahead, trucking companies that want to survive will have to pass the cost on and the cost of living for all New Zealanders will increase.

Pretty much everything travels on the back of a truck, so it is a cost on the final price of all goods.

Benjamin Franklin said, in 1789, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. While the RTF appreciates the value of tax to keep our road network operating, in this Government’s own words, these are “unprecedented” times. Surely that means, in 2020, rules can be changed to accommodate what is looking like a very grim landscape.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Free up freight to keep the economy moving

Week one of the Government’s lockdown has been a grim one for business. Air New Zealand is a shadow of its former koru, Bauer media shut its doors, and the forestry industry is in dire straits.

Most businesses are feeling the pain, with no end in sight. Even while the Government focuses on the health aspects of the global pandemic that is Covid-19, part of its enormous resources needs to be looking at economic recovery.

In a democracy, you can’t lock up a population and keep them terrified with mind-blowing numbers of fatalities for too long, without some serious questions being asked. Words like “unprecedented”, “we’re all in this together” and “the new normal” are carefully crafted to maintain control. But in the lounge rooms around New Zealand people are losing their livelihoods and there won’t be enough money to maintain that for too long.

The solution that has been mooted of a Depression-era road building gang under yet another government department’s control cannot be the only way out of this.

While we desperately need better roads, there have to be viable businesses using them and people who have jobs to go to. And this project is being headed by Transport Minister Phil Twyford who previously said, “there has been an over-investment in roads and motorways for decades in this country”.

Everyone is scrutinising the behaviour of our leaders, so when the Health Minister flouts the lockdown rules and the Transport Minister has a 360 degree change of heart, it feels like the recovery strategy might be a bit shaky.

Talk of an “institute” to train workers for the road building smacks of creating an even more bloated public service – there are already training programmes for this and what about the Reform of Vocational Education? The only people assured of jobs through this are public servants.

Trucking essential goods is an essential industry, but trucking companies are doing this at a loss because they cannot operate their businesses efficiently.

Supply chain links vital to getting essential supplies where they need to go must be allowed to work if trucking companies are to survive long enough to meet the demands of the Covid-19 response.

The Government needs to listen to business people and understand how business works. It is the private sector that will re-build the economy, not the public sector. The public sector spending on infrastructure won’t dig us out of a hole. New Zealand needs to generate wealth as the Government will need someone to tax. They have to keep people in business and that’s not just big business either. Small and medium businesses are the backbone of our country. The government can’t afford to forget that.

The decision to classify freight into two arbitrary groups – essential and non-essential – shows a lack of understanding of what is an integrated global system.

You take one link out, and the whole chain starts grinding to a halt.

As an importing and exporting nation, goods have to be able to come in and go out.

But at the moment, goods deemed “non-essential”, such as logs and processed wood products, are not allowed to go out. That means other countries that don’t have these restrictions are taking our market-share and we may never get it back. The longer this goes on the more people in the New Zealand provinces where forestry is a key employer will be out of work and the more businesses will fold.

The imperative to plant one billion trees is out the window and down the road.

We can’t export without importing. We must be able to move goods. Workers are already working in the “new normal” conditions of social distancing and strict hygiene, so this is doable under Alert Level 4.

We know that it is vital that items deemed essential move quickly through the supply chain, and priority should be given to them. However, for the supply chain to actually function now, and during our nation’s economic recovery, the classification to control its movement should be scrapped.
– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Get ready for the youth wave

Sometimes, it’s the small things that Governments do that have the biggest impact.

Last month, Employment Minister Willie Jackson launched a Youth Ready Employer Programme, aimed at ensuring employers have all the tools they need to employ young people.

For something that I think could have far reaching benefits, it was done in a fairly low key way. Minister Jackson had been to the UK and met two amazing young entrepreneurs – Jack Parsons and Ben Towers – who are all about getting young people into work, as well as getting employers to understand the benefits of employing young people and how to go about that.

Their message is so personal and compelling, these entrepreneurs travelled to New Zealand to talk to businesses for the launch of the programme, which is a collaboration between Ministry of Social Development, the Auckland Business Chamber and its wider chamber network, and Parsons and Towers.

As each generation ages, they tend to criticise the younger generation coming through. But this is not going to provide the necessary solutions to both our changing work environment and our immediate and future worker and skills needs. The nature of work is changing and employers need to embrace the change and employ people who can solve problems and bring fresh ideas – perhaps doing that in a different way to the boss.

It’s time to look at it from the employee’s perspective – there are barriers for some young people to get a look in for their first job. These are things like social and economic disadvantage, mental health, and employer rules and attitudes.

Jack Parsons and Ben Towers are walking counterpoints to many of the barriers older employers might put up.

Young people spend too much time online, they might say. Is that a bad thing? Ben Towers built his first website for a family friend at the age of 11, in his bedroom. He taught himself through You Tube videos. By 13, he had a website business. He couldn’t get a business banking account until he was over 18, and by that stage he had over 20 employees. He’s 21 and sold that business for millions of dollars. He now focuses on public speaking and investing in start-ups.

They don’t dress properly the older generation might say. Jack Parsons has dealt with young people who haven’t been able to go to job interviews because they can’t afford something to wear and have been too intimidated to go into a corporate environment. He has challenged the corporates on that and suggested they meet the candidate somewhere the candidates themselves might feel comfortable, like a coffee shop.

Parsons knows all about disadvantage. Growing up, he lived on a housing estate with an alcoholic mother, he battled dyslexia and attended speech therapy. Looking around him, a life of drugs and crime was a seriously viable option. But he chose to swim rather than sink and at 20, he was chief executive of his own company, the Youth Group. He has been recognised as one of Britain’s 50 kindest leaders and he continues to offer products and services to young people looking to get a start in the business world.

Both Ben and Jack are conscious of the mental health issues that can hold back young people and they want to address these. Ben plans to launch an app to help people with loneliness and Jack talks candidly about his own mental health challenges.

Their message to employers is to understand who you are going to employ and the Youth Ready Employer tool kit, available online, gives a pathway to employers to follow to become “youth ready”. The focus is on finding ways to connect with the age group of 18 to 30-year-olds who have common characteristics, operating styles and work expectations.

This is something I think the Government has done well, that will be really helpful for businesses.

We need to reflect these principles as we build the industry cadetship. If our industry wants to attract a younger workforce, it’s the industry that must change and adapt, not the other way around.

You can find out more about the toolkit here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Employer attitudes key to solving driver shortage

The driver shortage in the road freight transport industry is well known. Since I started at the Road Transport Forum (RTF) just over a year ago, many operators have talked to me about the shortages they face in securing drivers to enable them to run their businesses effectively. Trucks are often parked up and there is a lack of choice that was once enjoyed when recruiting staff.

Our industry isn’t unique in this dilemma. An ageing population is taking its toll on our workforce, across New Zealand and the developed world. We’ve seen it coming for many years.

The world has changed and we are living in a period where there is fierce competition to secure an able, skilled and qualified workforce. Pay, conditions, and investment in training all play a part in workers making choices about jobs, and careers. Can they see a future, is there a path to promotion, management, or business ownership?

There is a stark contrast I’ve detected as I move around the country; the differences between companies that are short of drivers and those who are not. Everyone says it’s an issue for the industry, but not every operator faces it as a direct challenge in their business. Why is this? Well, for a start it appears employer attitude and commitment to staff play a big part.

I was on a regional visit recently and I met two operators one after the other. The first one had a diverse workforce, including many women drivers and an average age that was probably 15 years younger than the industry average. The team was enthusiastic about their work and genuinely committed to the company that paid them well and invested in them gaining skills and qualifications. The staff were the best ambassadors for gaining new drivers; the company literally had a waiting list of people wanting to start with them.

Another company I visited, justifiably complained about their inability to get drivers and asked about what the RTF was doing about it. When I asked how many women drivers they had working for them, they told me they didn’t like employing women because they got pregnant and they also had reservations about ethnic groups. Further revelations indicated they were a fairly poor payer compared to some of the competition. I told them that the RTF can advocate and it can help set up opportunities for the industry, but ultimately, the solution to the workforce shortage lies in every business having the right attitude to its potential workforce and making changes to shifts, pay, education and safety that better attracts a new generation of drivers.

It’s really easy to blame everyone else for a shortage, whether it be Government or whoever, but I firmly believe the solution to our industry shortages lie with us.

So how do we overcome this?

The RTF has to provide a structure for better supporting businesses to attract workers. This isn’t an overnight solution and it will take time, but I want to signal to the industry that we are aware of this issue and that this year, we hope to announce a cadetship that will begin to usher in a new generation of workers.

The good news is the industry has started putting in place the framework to support a cadetship and there are operators who want to invest in their teams’ skillsets and qualifications.

For a start, all the associations and the RTF have been involved in creating a Workforce Development Strategy with MITO. This will lead to a national action plan for which the RTF will be the primary co-ordinating body.

You can look at the very readable strategy here.

This strategy is also backed up by qualifications that operators should be focussing their staff on obtaining. The New Zealand Certificate in Commercial Road Transport Skills (Level 3) and the New Zealand Certificate in Commercial Road Transport (Heavy Vehicle Operator – Level 3), are available this year.

Once the industry demonstrates an appetite for investing in qualifications and skills, we will be in a better position to demand more support from Government. The woeful enrolments of industry workers in MITO qualifications needs to improve in 2020 if we have any chance of showing that we are serious about tackling industry shortages. Potential and current employees need to see they are valued and that their skills will be invested in by their employers. Otherwise, those five staff members you will be losing to retirement in the next three years, won’t be replaced as young people go where they are wanted.

Specific course information is here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Not enough information for cannabis referendum vote

At next year’s general election, the New Zealand public will vote yes or no to a referendum question around legalising recreational cannabis use throughout the country.

That vote will focus on the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, a draft of which was released by Justice Minister Andrew Little on 3 December.

The road freight transport industry has serious misgivings about this draft Bill. It is woefully incomplete, dangerously naïve, too narrow in focus, and lacking in critical detail. It is too incomplete to vote on and people need the full picture before such a vote.

For safety sensitive industries such as road freight transport, we cannot see how this Bill will in any way correlate to the strict health and safety legislation in New Zealand. In fact, in the section (8) that outlines the “Relationship between Act and other enactments”, there is no mention of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, which holds employers and Boards strictly liable for the health and safety of their workers.

The road is the truck drivers’ workplace, so we care a lot about road safety. We cannot see how this Bill will in any way contribute to safer roads, which is allegedly of critical importance to this Government. We already have a situation where the number of people being killed by drug impaired drivers on New Zealand roads eclipses those killed by drivers above the alcohol limit.

Indeed, in releasing the Bill, Minister Little was quoted as saying that exploring the risks of drugged driving and workplace impairment would be pushed back until after the referendum vote.

That is not good enough. People should be given all the facts before they vote on this Bill.

International research shows that where cannabis is legalised, consumption is higher and new users enter the market. So potentially, we have more drugged drivers on the road.

Deloitte has done a number of reports on Canada, which has legalised the use of recreational cannabis nationwide. They make for interesting reading.

The Deloitte report, A society in transition, an industry ready to bloom, surveyed current and likely cannabis consumers across Canada in early 2018, to gain insights into how consumption levels might change, what kinds of products consumers would be interested in, and how and where they’d like to purchase. They found that purchases by current and likely frequent cannabis consumers were set to rise up to 22 percent after legalisation.

The report says: “We see a more significant change in behaviour among less frequent consumers, both current and likely. After legalization, purchase frequency in this group is poised to raise 121 percent”.

It is incredibly naïve to believe that where there are commercial imperatives, anyone involved in making money from cannabis sales will in any way be focused on reducing consumption.

Research in the United States shows an increase in road crashes in states that have legalised marijuana, compared to states where marijuana is not legal. There is a need for more research in this area, but it is important to note. This evidence is incongruous with the New Zealand Government’s Road to Zero road safety strategy.

We don’t believe the Government is giving the full picture of the direct and unintended consequences of the Bill. Some big impact questions for safety sensitive industries need to be answered, particularly around liability when WorkSafe fines for workplace accidents are now well into six figures.

There are too many unanswered questions and after the referendum, that this current Government would consider binding, is too late for those answers. That’s what they call closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum