Port Wings News Network:
The Union Government in consultation with the state governments should set up a “Welfare Board” for the benefit of freight transport drivers, Mr K Asai Thambi, secretary of a reputed trade union in Chennai and one of the well-known voices for the voiceless drivers and cleaners working with container trailers and heavy vehicles in Chennai Port, has said.
In an interview to Port Wings, Mr Asai Thambi said, “To secure the future of lakhs of insecure freight transport drivers, the Union Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi should take a call soon on setting up a welfare board for drivers, which would attract more and more to the driving job.”
In a freewheeling chat with Port Wings, he described the current status of freight transport drivers, their reluctance to go on inter-state long drives and steps needed to create more hands behind wheels.
Q. Tell us about the freight transport industry?
Mr Asai Thambi: “Freight transport industry is the backbone of two-trillion USD value Indian economy and the drivers, who transport goods and other commodities worth crores of rupees everyday from one corner to the other in the country, are no less than the real backbone of overall logistics system. According to a report prepared by KPMG‐CII, which estimated that by 2015 India will need five million truck drivers, whereas currently the road freight segment has only three million skilled truck drivers. The main reason for fading interest among the wannabe truck drivers is the insecurity for the job.”
Q. Tell us about the current status of truck drivers working in port sector?
AT: “The condition of drivers and cleaners working in container trailers is pitiable. If you take the example of Chennai Port, no driver wants to work here as they endure four or five days in a queue outside the port to deliver an export container. Under such circumstances, the drivers behind the trailers lose their sleep and their family life goes for a toss. So, the drivers prefer to work where they get some relief despite low wages.”
Q. In your view, what are the main reasons for shortage of truck drivers in the country?
AT: “In the early 1980s, when there were not many options for the less-educated youngsters from villages and towns beyond agriculture fields, many of them preferred to driver job since it fetched good money for their families. However, the scenario changed dramatically in the late 1990s, when the globalization brought in new avenues for earnings to all sectors. Since the last two decades, number of drivers in freight transport sector is in declining mode. Moreover, insecurity to the job also aided to the decline and the youngsters in last two decades prefer to work in secured job eventhough with less salary rather than sitting behind wheels.”
Q. Are drivers now transporting goods on highways get proper on-road facilities?
AT: Drivers moving goods through national highways often rue that there are no facilities like rest rooms for them for relaxation after long drives. NHAI should build rest room-cum-refresh centres on highways for long-distance drivers (on par with dhabas).
Q. What could be done to bring in more hands in freight transport sector?
AT: “Due to changed mindset, educated youth of this generation never like to take truck driver job as a permanent profession anymore. It is mainly due to the lurking insecurity in the job. They don’t get much income and they are at the mercy of vehicle owners. If they meet with an accident, there is nobody to take care of the driver or his family. It becomes difficult if the family has no other source of income they will be forced on to the streets. It is time for those heavy vehicle manufacturing companies like Ashok Leyland, TATA, Mahindra, BharatBenz, Volvo and Eicher, who spent crores of rupees for selling their products, should set up a common driver training facility. In fact, such programme by these companies could be taken up under corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.”
Q. What role, both Centre and State governments can play to improve drivers tally in the country?
AT: In my view, both the Centre and state governments have huge roles to play to alleviate drivers’ shortage. If the Union Government comes out with a “Welfare Board” for truck drivers and doles out long-term measurers for their social security, monthly pension, retirement benefits, financial assistance for medical treatment and huge sum as insurance in case of death, I am pretty sure that it would definitely attract many. Equally, the state governments too have huge role in convincing the youngsters to take up the steering.
In short, I wish to record that the drivers of freight transport sector should become the real drivers of Indian economy and for achieving it, both the Union Government and state governments have a primary duty to alleviate the existing insecurity in the job.