RTANZ Chief Operating Officer Simon Carson updates members on the issues they currently face as New Zealand maintains lockdown restrictions due to COVID-19.
Sixteen months ago, the country faced COVID-19 lockdown, Level 4, and here we are again with an uncertain future, this time due to the Delta variant of the virus with the same name. It is likely that most of the country, and our industry, is better prepared for this as most transport businesses either carried on with their jobs moving freight around the country, while others such as logging and household removal businesses downed tools and waited for a reduction in lockdown levels. Once again, a wage subsidy covered some of the costs for people unable to work in Level 4, but in reality, the allowance doesn’t cover much at all, especially when there is uncertainty in the coming weeks, months or even years. COVID’s nature is endemic, so will an annual “flu-like” vaccination be the new norm for protection from a mutating virus, will herd immunisation minimise it within our population, or could it be something else altogether? Only time will answer that question.
On August 17, the evening the government lockdown announcement came, the Association immediately fielded calls from operators who were seeking assurance that public facilities would be open in our cities and towns, and that essentials such as fuel and food could still be sourced, safely. We worked for the first few days once the announcement was made to ensure we put together a list of utilities drivers would have access to. Regional Civil Defence offices along with most local and regional councils were cooperative and understanding toward the needs of the industry, which was pleasing. Other important issues that would affect our essential workers were addressed with the appropriate authorities.
It has now been two weeks since the industry asked the urgent question of Waka Kotahi NZTA, which was to clarify the position available to industry on transport businesses operating vehicles with expired COFs, having drivers with expired licences, and in the case of an incident what the impact on insurance and other business liability might look like. It is not as if this is something new; industry was faced with an identical position 16 months ago and quickly received information within a clear operational order Yet after continual pressure applied to Waka Kotahi NZTA by Road Transport Forum, this time, 14 days on we still do not have an answer. Hoping that turning a blind eye and trusting Police, CVST, and insurance businesses will use fair and reasonable discretion is simply not good enough. Where is the government’s operational mandate for the transport industry through COVID?
Regional checkpoints in the Auckland area take affect from midnight on August 31 to control what comes in and out of Level 4 affected areas. RTANZ has ensured industry has had a say on where these are placed, and the ability of each site to efficiently handle the thoroughfare of heavy vehicles transiting between areas. It is vital that all freight that can move, does move.
Operational updates that are distributed to association members may have answered some questions, with many more remaining a work in progress. We have seen Kiwi Rail late last week introduce “Force Majeure” with little to no detail on why, or how contracted parties should prepare for this. This is nothing but another spanner in the works at an extremely difficult time. We have assisted businesses whose drivers have traveled within the Auckland area only to become embargoed from customer sites in other regions, often without notice. Common sense and pragmatism need to prevail but, in many cases, do not. These are only a few of the issues we are working on for our members.
On August 26, RTA set up a two day “test case” priority vaccination clinic for drivers in Cannons Creek, Porirua. Members in the nearby area were individually contacted by phone to have drivers invited to receive the vaccine. A number of members took advantage of this, and the priority status worked for them as essential workers. It was encouraging that conversations with RTANZ members indicated that many of their staff either had been vaccinated already or were booked in for the coming weeks.
Further work has been done with RTF to calculate an estimated number of drivers, other staff, and close contacts from membership businesses that may wish to engage in the industry priority vaccination program which we are hoping to deliver to members shortly. RTA has provided RTF with estimated vaccination numbers from industry across New Zealand regions, and its District Health Boards.
As an industry that right now is a critical link in our countries welfare and economy I would strongly encourage you, our members, to make contact with me directly should there be industry issues that you feel need to be addressed. It is important that Association work continues to keep you safe and keep industry moving.
Updates will continue to be sent to you as soon as they become available, and as conditions in our industry and across our nation continue to evolve.
Please stay safe.
Chief Operating Officer, Road Transport Association