Supporting drivers on Covid-19 front lines

The deadline for this article came two weeks after the world was turned upside-down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and there is just so much to talk about.

The impacts of this crisis are anyone’s guess this early in the pandemic; it’s hard to say what our industry will look like once this is settled. It’s hard to even guess what so many institutions from our previous normal – education, health care, the workplace, social life – will look like in the future.

However, we already know one thing, which is that our drivers are being affected by this pandemic, and we need to ensure we are taking care of them. Can you imagine what it does to a person, not knowing where you can next get a meal, have a shower, or just use a proper washroom facility, day after day? It must be mentally exhausting, on top of all the other worries we all have these days.

In a recently completed Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA) survey, 95% of respondents said they were seeing mental health issues among their drivers. The concerns included feeling overwhelmed by all of the bad news, worries about catching Covid-19 and bringing it home to their family members, worries about families and friends while the driver is on the road, and feelings of isolation due to social distancing. The days of pulling up to a shipper or receiver, grabbing paperwork, having a visit with the staff, using the washroom, and carrying on are currently over, and we are only a few weeks into this. And we all know this is going to get worse before it gets better. Not only are we asking our drivers to be the heroes on the road, but we are asking them to do this while carrying a heavier burden.

So how can we work to alleviate the burden that has been thrust upon our drivers? First, there is the #thankatrucker campaign, started by the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA). This campaign began a short time ago and has picked up steam across the country. From everyday folks wanting to express gratitude to government ministers, provincial premiers, and even the prime minister taking a moment to say thank you. For drivers who can log in and access this information, it is a good pick-me-up.

But we need to do more, and that’s where the provincial trucking associations and CTA step up and show their mettle. Across the country, we have been working with members to ensure their drivers are treated fairly. At the MTA, we have fielded complaints about a wide range of concerns, and have reminded many organizations, large and small, that drivers are an exempted essential service and therefore deserve to be treated accordingly.

Advocating for something as simple as keeping washrooms open and cleaned is another way to let a driver know they are appreciated; we are appreciative that the government of Manitoba recently identified truck stops as an essential service.

We have advised family members who have been told not to come in to work because their partner is a truck driver. We were able to, early on and with the blessing of the Province of Manitoba, provide our carrier members with access to hand sanitizer. All of these are small things, but they add up.

We have also been working more closely with Motor Carrier Division to ensure proper rest stops are accessible to drivers across our province. We have surveyed drivers for their suggestions, and shared this information via the CTA’s national advocacy efforts to ensure a coast-to-coast network is open for drivers.

Finally, we have been receiving, on a daily basis, from everyday Manitobans and businesses, small and large, offers to help. Whether it’s one person willing to go for a grocery run or a national chain providing a food or hotel discount, our drivers need all the resources they can get right now.

When we see regular social media posts of signs telling drivers that the washroom facilities are closed or that they are not allowed past a certain point, it is encouraging to see there are businesses willing to open their facilities, sometimes specifically for truck drivers passing though. This information is posted daily on our website and shared with our members.

We have always asked a lot of our drivers, never more so than in the past couple of weeks. It appears that demand isn’t going away any time soon; in fact, it may increase as time goes on and new changes are made in support of flattening the curve.

Unfortunately, this means our drivers are going to continue to be challenged by this virus. We need to ensure we are delivering for our drivers so they can continue to deliver for us.Aerial view of a large group of semi trucks parked at a highway truck stop. Parking lot with over 90 semi trucks.

Terry Shaw

Terry Shaw oversees the planning and priorities of the MTA, is the lead for political liaison and relations with all levels of government, media relations, and acts as a spokesperson for the industry. He is a member of several MTA committees and represents the association through his involvement with Trucking HR Canada, the Manitoba Employers Council, and the Winnipeg and Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. Terry also engages on national issues as a regional vice-president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, of which he is a board and executive member.