4 wishes for a happier year of trucking

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It’s hard to believe how radically life has changed in a single year.

When the calendar pages first turned to reveal 2020, Covid-19 had yet to emerge in Canada. We were still shaking hands, gathering in groups, going about our daily business. Surgical masks were largely reserved for healthcare workers.

But here we are.

Masks have become essential personal protective equipment for everyone, everywhere. Everyday business transactions are completed behind plexiglass barriers. The paths through retail stores and loading docks are marked with arrows on the floor. And as for shaking hands? It’s safer to keep your two-meter distance.

(Illustration: istock)

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief as the first vaccines were distributed. There’s a sense of hope on the horizon, a sign that 2021 has something better in store for all of us.

As we prepare to celebrate a new year – and offer a cheer as 2020 fades into the distance — I have assembled a wish list that could make 2021 even better.

1. Let’s see more action on rest areas

The lack of washroom access for truck drivers made headlines last spring, as businesses shut their doors during lockdowns. But everyone in the trucking industry knows the issue is not limited to a pandemic. All too often, truckers continue to be denied access to restrooms and rest areas during the course of their work.

Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney recently put it best when she referred to it as a “basic humanity issue”. I almost applauded during the press conference.

The pandemic brought this issue into the public spotlight. And there have been some promising announcements for new rest areas. A transportation plan in Northern Ontario includes 10 new rest areas and plans to repair or expand 11 others. Work is beginning on a $30 million project in North Surrey, B.C.

It is not enough. Not by a long shot. But now is the time to push governments and customers alike to ensure that those who deliver the goods are given the place for a break, especially as Canada prepares to mandate electronic logging devices (ELDs).

2. Ensure truck drivers have early access to vaccines

Healthcare workers, the elderly, and those who deliver medical care are rightly at the top of the list to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. But truck drivers deserve early access to Covid-19 vaccines as well.

As provinces establish their vaccine distribution plans, let’s hope that they take the extra steps to help protect essential workers who distribute the medical goods and supplies of every type.

3. Shine the spotlight on truck drivers

The important role of truck drivers was highlighted in the early days of this pandemic, as stores scrambled to restock hoarded supplies. When people discussed “essential workers”, truckers were on that list.

That early admiration is fading somewhat, as people go about their daily lives.

As an industry, we need to do our part to celebrate the important role that truck drivers play in society as a whole. They deserve the applause and admiration every day.

4. Crack down on Driver Inc.

The final wish on this list is for a real crackdown on Driver Inc., the business model that sees employed truck drivers misclassified as independent contractors.

Some fleets continue to sell drivers a bill of goods, convincing them that they would be better off without the pesky deductions from paycheques. These employers wrongly convince people that they can write off all sorts of personal expenses. But when the taxman comes knocking, it’s the drivers who could be in for a shock.

This practice has nothing to do with putting more money into driver pockets. It’s about fleets looking for a way to pay drivers less money overall, avoiding things like vacation pay, and using the savings to undercut rates.

There are established tests that determine if someone is truly an independent contractor or offers a personal services business. Anyone pushing outside those boundaries should face the full force of the law.

There have been promises of crackdowns by Labour Canada, including targeted enforcement, penalties, and the public outing of non-compliant companies. Action is promised through the Canada Revenue Agency, too.

If the government is serious about the issue, it’s time to take action on the promises.



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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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