New Brunswick

Truckers talk life on the road: low pay, pressure to run

Some truckers say a national shortage of skilled drivers is having a negative impact on their working conditions and hasn't driven up wages as much as advertised.

'The problems that carriers have is that they will literally hire anybody who can drive a truck'

In 2011, the Conference Board of Canada was projecting a shortfall of 25,000 drivers in 2020. (John Bazemore/Associated Press)

Some truckers say a national shortage of skilled drivers is having a negative impact on their working conditions and hasn't driven up wages as much as advertised.   

"It's a God-awful job," 50-year-old Keith Revell said from the highway to North Battleford, Sask.

"There's no way to sugarcoat it."

Revell said he worked 317 days last year and made $64,000.

"I literally had my obligatory legal time-off requirement, and then I hit the road again."

Keith Revell was recruited from the U.K. to drive in Canada and hasn't had a cost-of-living raise since. (Submitted by Keith Revell)

In 2009, Revell said, he was recruited from the United Kingdom to drive in Canada and hasn't had a cost-of-living raise since.

When he immigrated, he said he had to prove he had the skills and experience to do the job.

Now he thinks there's growing pressure on the industry to hire drivers with fewer qualifications just to get their freight on the road.

"The problems that carriers have is that they will literally hire anybody who can drive a truck. Driving a truck competently is another matter."

More accidents

Sam Puglielli is also convinced that employers are taking more chances on inexperienced drivers and that it's causing more serious accidents.

On June 22, he took video from his cab of the aftermath of a fatal head-on collision between two tractor-trailers east of Windsor, Ont.

He said he's watched it multiple times and believes the accident was caused by someone asleep at the wheel or someone inexperienced.

Sam Puglielli suspects employers are taking more chances on inexperienced drivers and says it's causing more serious accidents. (Submitted by Sam Puglielli)

"You can be on [Highway] 401 and run with 80,000 pounds in your wagon, doing 105 kilometres an hour with no experience whatsoever, because these companies have to have their product out," Puglielli said.

"And we're talking about companies that have 300, 400, 500 trucks on the road."

"They can't afford to have these trucks sitting idle. So they're pushing out drivers as quick as they can get them in."

Pay, conditions vary

Casey Sarginson said she took up trucking after "doing the wife thing" and raising a step-son.

She's one of 300 members of the Women's Trucking Federation of Canada.

Working conditions and compensation can vary widely, she said, depending on the employer.

"I get paid 56 cents a mile," she said. "And that's pretty close to the standard within the GTA, whereas somebody living in Moncton, New Brunswick, would get paid a lot less."

Sarginson said she also gets benefits and feels that her job is secure.

She's paid for delays on the road, she said, and if the truck breaks down, she gets paid for time spent on repairs.

Her company also offers bonuses to drivers who can lower their fuel consumption by idling less, for example.

Casey Sarginson says working conditions and compensation can vary widely in the trucking industry. (Submitted by Casey Sarginson)

"We also have safety bonuses," she said, and the finder's fee for finding new drivers just went up.

"We now have a $2,000 payout for referrals," Sarginson said. "It used to be only $500."

Male-dominated industry

But being a woman in a male-dominated industry has its drawbacks, in her view.

For example, Sarginson feels she has to be extra careful about her personal safety while she's working outside her truck and away from home. 

She also believes that because of her gender, people expect her to screw up.

On June 14, the federal government announced new spending to help recruit new drivers from "untapped labour pools."

Employment Canada has identified those pools as women, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, visible minorities, former military personnel and youth.

In partnership with Trucking HR Canada, Ottawa will put some of the money into researching the industry's employment gap.

In 2011, the Conference Board of Canada was projecting a shortfall of 25,000 drivers by 2020. 

"We need to better quantify it," said Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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