Since the mass torching of trucks on the N3 Mooi River in 2018, the trucking industry has faced numerous challenges that have threatened not only the sustainability of the sector but, to some extent, the stability of the African economy says Anton Cornelissen, head of Santam Heavy Haulage.
The past 18 months have not been any easier for the sector, he said. “The continuance of sporadic torching of trucks and attacks on truck drivers, service delivery protests and looting, the lockdown and various restrictions associated with the Covid 19 pandemic have further crippled the industry.
“Due to the restrictions and limitation of transportation of essential goods during the hard lockdown, transporters have seen a massive drop in their turnovers, with most having to downsize and some even permanently closing. Those who are lucky enough to be still operational now have to stretch their staff and chase deadlines, which places further pressure and fatigue on drivers due to the long hours on the road – a major concern.”
Cornelissen added that due to the recent extensions in the validity of expired driver’s licenses, most drivers have not had to do their medical check-ups to renew their professional driving permits (PRDPs), which is a health and safety hazard.
“These factors are highlighted by the rise in the number of single-vehicle accidents, which can be attributed mainly to driver error. This has been the main reason why, over the past few years, Santam has collaborated with the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) to advocate for driver wellness.”
What truck drivers earn in South Africa
Despite these issues, the heavy haulage industry still provides a steady income for thousands of South Africans.
The Department of Labour published its minimum wages for South Africans who drive as wholesale and retail truck drivers, in February 2021, with these changes taking effect from March.
According to the regulations, drivers are paid in accordance with what part of South Africa they are based:
|Area A||Areas around Bergrivier, Breede Valley, Buffalo City, Cape Agulhas, Cederberg, City of Cape Town, City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, City of Tshwane, Drakenstein, Ekurhuleni, Emalahleni, Emfuleni, Ethekwini Metropolitan Unicity, Gamagara, George, Hibiscus Coast, Karoo Hoogland, Kgatelopele, //Khara Hais, Knysna, Kungwini, Kouga, Hessequa local authority, Lesedi, Makana, Mangaung, Matzikama, Metsimaholo, Middelburg (Mpumalanga), Midvaal, Mngeni, Mogale, Mosselbaai, Msunduzi, Mtubatuba, Nama Khoi, Nelson Mandela, Nokeng tsa Taemane, Oudtshoorn, Overstrand, Plettenbergbaai, Potchefstroom, Randfontein, Richtersveld, Saldanha Bay, Sol Plaatjie, Stellenbosch, Swartland, Swellendam, Theewaterskloof, Umdoni, uMhlathuze and Witzenberg.|
|Area B||All Areas not listed in Area A.|
Drivers can work overtime and agree to work six-day weeks, depending on the agreement they have with their employer.
|Driver type||Area A||Area B|
|Light (3,500 kg or less)||R4,229.22||R4,229.22|
|Medium (3,501 kg – 9,000 kg)||R5,085.20||R4,229.22|
|Heavy (9,001 kg – 16,000 kg)||R5,535.62||R5,264.60|
|Very Heavy (16,001 kg or over)||R6083.53||R5,787.15|
It should be noted that these are minimum wages and are not reflective of what more experienced drivers can earn in South Africa.
Drivers can also earn substantially more based on which companies they drive for and what haulage they carry.
Data sourced from salary website Indeed shows that the base salary for a truck driver is closer to R10,324 per month in South Africa – or roughly R124,000 a year.
Comparative salary data from Payscale shows that the average pay is slightly lower at R98,225 a year, or R8,185 a month.
While South Africa’s trucking industry faces something of a crisis, a severe shortage of truck drivers in the US and UK has led to more companies bringing in drivers from abroad.
Craig Fuller, the founder and chief executive of the data and information firm Freightwave, told Bloomberg that companies are increasingly turning to drivers from South Africa and Canada as workers from those countries can often speak English, making it easier to get the necessary license.
This was echoed by Arnoux Mare, chief executive of Innovative Solutions Group, who told RSG that this is not a new trend and that South Africans have been in demand for some time.
The UK government is looking to make thousands of visas available to foreign workers in response to the escalating crisis around fuel shortages and empty supermarket shelves, said Nicola Digby, a senior consultant at specialist immigration firm Sable International.
“Workers of all nationalities are invited to apply, with the majority expected to come from the EU. Although exact criteria for the scheme have not yet been released, it is anticipated that the visas will form part of the T5 Temporary Worker category,” she said.
“The government is also expected to make an additional 5,500 visas available for seasonal workers within the poultry industry.”
Bloomberg reported earlier this week that the UK has only received 127 applications from fuel-tanker drivers wanting to come to Britain, which prime minister Boris Johnson said illustrated the global shortage of drivers.
“What we said to the road haulage industry was fine, give us the names of the drivers that you want to bring in and we’ll sort out the visas,” Johnson said on BBC TV, after the UK announced a program to bring in migrant drivers to address a fuel and supply-chain crisis.
“They only produced 127 names so far.” Britain has said it is open to issuing a total of 5,000 short-term visas to plug critical gaps in its labor market, particularly for the transportation of fuel following significant outages at gas stations.