When you hear the word “truck,” the first thing that comes to mind is probably not a very good image. It is frustrating to drive a truck and not be able to see what is in front of you when it pulls in front of you, and it is even more frustrating when it drives too slowly. It is even more frustrating when a large vehicle is parked on the shoulder of the road and gets in the way. Some of you may have seen scenes on TV news of truck drivers drinking in their cars at highway SAs and PAs.
However, there are many misconceptions about the bad image of truck drivers, according to Aiki Hashimoto, a writer who has been covering the voices of blue-collar workers in logistics and other fields. Aiki Hashimoto, author of “The Lost Truck Driver’s Maze,” and a former truck driver himself, talks about the many misconceptions we have about truck drivers and the 2024 problem that is currently being closely watched, He also spoke to us about the current 2024 problem and other misconceptions that we have about truck drivers.
The first misconception I want to clear up is that the truck drivers that the public sees are also delivery drivers, and that logistics equals delivery. However, in terms of transportation volume, home delivery accounts for less than 7% of all logistics. Most of the bulk is accounted for by inter-company transportation.
Drivers in business-to-business transportation do not have the opportunity to directly interact with consumers. But the working environment for business-to-business transport drivers has deteriorated so much precisely because of their invisibility. If they were more visible, I think a lot more things would change, but unfortunately, the only time the general public is aware of truck drivers in inter-company transport is when they are parked on the road or driving too slowly and are in the way, or something like that.”
One of the reasons for the harsh working conditions of drivers, with long hours and low pay, is the industry’s practice of “shipper supremacy. Drivers are told that they must follow the orders of shippers, and they have no choice but to do as they are told. This is also said to be the cause of slow driving and roadside parking.
If the cardboard boxes and other packing materials are damaged, even slightly, they are sometimes returned to the shipper. Of course, the product inside is not damaged at all. But there are many cases where the product is returned. If it is just a return, the driver is made to pay for it. If it’s a bad case, the entire pallet is bought back. What is even more unreasonable is that the driver will not give the pallet back to the shipper even though he has to pay for it. I asked one of the shippers why. When I asked one shipper why, he replied, “Because we can’t take responsibility for items that have been sold on the market and distributed in an unregulated manner.
Another story was that a shipper was forced to return cardboard boxes containing cup noodles and beverages from a convenience store if the glue was peeled off even a little bit. There are many cases where it is not the driver’s fault. The trucks are reloaded many times, and if they are shaken on the back of the truck for a long time, the cardboard can get crushed, the glue can peel off, or the cardboard can get blackened and scuffed. That is why trucks sometimes drive slowly, not only to avoid traffic accidents, but also to prevent damage to the cargo.
They say that parking on the street in an unsolicited manner is as good as the shipper implicitly instructing them to do so. If they are told to wait where they can come right away if called, they have no choice but to park on the street.
The driver is the one who gets a ticket for that. Unless we fix that, the working environment for drivers will not improve. However, the industry itself is closed, so the unreasonableness of the drivers has not been exposed to the public until now. If a driver complains, he or she is simply told, “That’s okay, I’ll find someone else.
The drinking in the cars that can be seen at SAs and PAs also has a story.
Truck drivers have no problem not drinking alcohol. But legally speaking, it is not necessarily a bad thing. There is a rule that when a day’s work is over, they must rest for at least eight consecutive hours before the next day’s work begins. During those 8 hours, they are supposed to go home, but they can’t actually go home. Since the car is their home, they tend to drink in the car.
But if it’s an SA or PA, I think to myself, why not drink at a restaurant? I think that I confuse public and private matters when I am in the car. The car is your castle, so the place to work, sleep, and eat are all in the cabin. Some people have refrigerators and microwave ovens in their cars. And in the fridge, there is always a bottle of ice-cold beer. Especially in this hot summer, many drivers who work hard and sweat enjoy drinking after work, but if they mix their public and private lives, some of them will worry about the beer in the refrigerator when they are on the road.
In addition, many of them drink in their sleep because of their short and irregular sleeping hours. Because of a profession that becomes in a sense very compatible with alcohol, it is easy to fall into alcohol dependence when the public and private life are mixed up. That is why, says Hashimoto, people who cannot do without drinking every day should not become truck drivers.
In fact, trucking is not an easy job. Trucks are vehicles that kill people. And for that reason, the social status is too low. Other jobs that require a distance between alcohol and work include doctors and pilots, but the difference in status between them is obvious. There are people who say they can’t do without drinking because the working environment is so bad, of course there will be people who say that. But I think that’s why we have to distance ourselves from alcohol.
It was under the declaration of a state of emergency in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis that the spotlight fell on truck drivers in the inter-company transport industry, who are usually invisible to the general public. As essential workers who support the social infrastructure, the drivers were happy to see messages such as “Thank you to all those who support logistics” posted on highway signs. However, their working environment seems to have become even worse.
Essential workers were supposed to be given priority for vaccines, but drivers would only return to their hometowns once every week or two if they were long-distance workers. At that time, with appointments being hard to get, it was practically impossible to schedule them until the second booster. So many people were getting the shots when they were available, later than the general inoculation.
Also, due to the request to refrain from going out, all the SAs and PAs were closed at once, so there were no places to eat, and the shower rooms and restrooms at the gas stations were also out of order. Anyway, there were many unreasonable things. If they were asking us to work hard, I wish the government had made the environment a little more conducive to working hard.
The “2024 problem” is a hot topic these days. As part of the reform of work style, overtime work will be limited to 960 hours per year from April 2024 in order to improve the working environment for truck drivers who work long hours. It is said that this could result in 30% of cargo not being delivered. There is also a serious shortage of drivers and a decrease in driver income.
The working environment for drivers is a combination of long hours and low wages, and yet the government is trying very hard to reduce the number of hours worked. Many drivers are paid on a commission basis, so if they work fewer hours, their income will decrease dramatically.
The average age of truck drivers is around 50, but some have started looking for a new job, saying it may be their last chance to change jobs. There are also people who want to start doing Uber Eats on the side. It’s a reversal of the whole idea of reforming the way people work, which is to give them a break, and then make them work even harder,” he said.
It is a complete reversal of the original plan if the working environment deteriorates as the rule to reduce working hours becomes a one-size-fits-all solution. In order to improve the working environment, it is essential to gain the understanding of shippers so that the unreasonableness mentioned earlier can be eliminated. Above all, a prerequisite for higher wages is higher freight rates. To this end, it may be important for us, the general public, to think about the truck drivers who continue to transport goods day after day without a break.
PHOTO： Shinji Hamasaki (Mr. Hashimoto)