HELP WANTED: Road train drivers are desperately needed in drought-stricken regions of Australia.
HELP WANTED: Road train drivers are desperately needed in drought-stricken regions of Australia.

Qld road train operators struggle to fill $130,000 roles

TRANSPORT boss Mike Bailey hasn't seen a drought in the Northern Territory's Barkly Tableland region this bad in all his 32 years in the industry.

After two failed wet seasons, farmers there are destocking at record levels. One report suggests between 500,000 and 750,000 head of cattle may have been or are being uplifted out of the region as feed runs out.

Exasperating the problem for Mike, Queensland manager for Road Trains Australia, is that he can't find drivers to help with the massive demand, despite the role offering up to $130,000 per year.

"We have 12 trucks without drivers at the moment, and it's not just us; everybody's chasing drivers," said Mt Isa-based Mike.

"We've had this problem for the last couple of years of not being able to fill our seats. It's an on-going issue.

"We're all working in together at the moment and we've all got the same problem."

Although the driver shortage has put added strain on stock movements, Mike said they are still able to help farmers before any cattle loses occur.

"They're moved in the right time with plenty of warning. All the farmers are doing the right thing by the cattle."

Beef Central reports that cattle coming off the Barkly and other parts of northern Australia are moving in a number of directions, including:

  • Direct to slaughter in Queensland's east coast beef plants
  • Feedlot placements, mostly on grower/maintenance rations
  • Internal relocation onto other pastoral company-owned properties, either further east in Queensland areas including the Gulf region (responding after February/March rain), parts of the Channel Country region which has received some beneficial flooding, and other parts of the NT, such as around Katherine
  • Agistment on other owner's properties
  • Placement on the long paddock (stock routes) in western Queensland, and placement on Queensland properties with grass, purchased specifically for drought relief by Barkly cattle operators

As for the reasons behind the driver shortage in the region, Mike concedes that stiffer logbook penalties in Queensland, as opposed to WA and the NT, are a deterrent for many drivers considering the move north.

"If you're out on your logbook by a quarter of an hour it's $600."

But on the upside, the RTA offers all the latest gear and creature comforts for in-cab living for their drivers who can be away from home for much of the year.

"The trucks have everything in them; air-conditioned bunks, fridges, converters so they can run frying pans and toasters, microwave, all that sort of stuff."

"Plus we pay a retainer, a kilometre rate and a night away from home allowance."