by Jim O’Toole, Townsville bureau

While the Far Northern Queensland cane crop is in jeopardy due to a shortage of truck drivers there are at least 2000 truck driver vacancies across the state.

Transport compliance officers, or scalies,generally are despised throughout the transport industry because a number of over-zealous and officious officers have fined drivers off the road compounding the driver shortage.

Mossman sugar mill is offering $60 an hour for ABN holders yet is unable to attract enough drivers to get harvested cane from paddocks to the mill for crushing.

Queensland Trucking Association CEO Gary Mahon told ABC Radio there is an unprecedented shortage of drivers across all industries.

He said there was tough competition throughout all industries and particularly from mining.

The $60 per hour rate offered by Mossman Mill is comparable to the coal industry and across mining generally so there have to be other reasons why younger people won’t take on a big rig.

Pull up at a truck stop and listen to drivers in the restaurant whose main topic of conversation usually is about ‘mermaids’ which refers to Main Roads Department compliance officers who generally are the more disliked than police by truckies.

We spoke to a soon-to-retire interstate driver, Graham, Townsville, who has plied the national highway for 30 years in singles and B-doubles.

He said a lot of drivers have been forced out of the industry over the past few years citing the Covid mandates as having the worst ever effect on company operators and owner-drivers who were forced to have a Covid vaxx before entering warehouses and freight depots.

“A lot of drivers refused and lost their jobs or contracts,” Graham said.

“Then there are the bloody Main Roads cops who make trucks easy targets for compliance checks of mainly log books and searching trucks for drugs,” he complained.

“If the scalies don’t like you or the company you work for they will fine you for anything at all. It doesn’t matter if they find nothing wrong with your truck or log book they will find or make up something.

“A friend last year lost his licence from (demerit) points because he stood up to bullying scalies when they couldn’t find anything wrong so he was fined for a spelling mistake and an wrong speedo calculation and the points went over the limit.

“He couldn’t drive for months so he left the industry. He had a family to support.”

Over-zealous transport cops have always been the scourge of the industry and in some cases deserve all the scorn poured upon them.

There had been cowboy drivers over the years “but there are few of them now days,” Graham said.