Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lowly-paid and exhausted drivers behind most accidents

PETALING JAYA: They are underpaid, undertrained and overworked. And they lie at the bottom of the pile as far as commercial vehicle drivers are concerned.

While lorry and truck drivers can earn between RM4,000 and RM5,000 a month, non-unionised bus drivers get as little as RM500 in basic salary.

To make ends meet, they have to work overtime, drive more trips and in so doing, forgo their sleep.

This, many say, is the real reason why shocking express bus accidents still occur with horrifying regularity.

Checks with trade organisations and unions revealed that bus drivers are among the lowest paid drivers of commercial vehicles.

The Pan Malaysian Bus Operators Association (PMBOA) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) say the average pay for a driver with five years’ experience is between RM2,000 and RM3,000 including allowances. Lorry drivers are paid much more.

The lower salary tends to compel drivers to work longer than they should, and some take drugs to stay awake.

TWU secretary-general Datuk Zainal Rampak believes there are about 2,000 non-unionised drivers compared to over 4,000 who work with companies which allow union representation.

“Records show that many accidents involve express buses companies whose drivers are not unionised,” he said.

He pointed out that the employees of Sani Express Sdn Bhd, whose bus slammed into a divider on the North-South Expressway near Ipoh killing 10 passengers on Sunday, were not unionised.

However, this does not mean that Sani Express’ drivers are underpaid.

Zainal said another shortcoming was a lack of training for drivers.

The Government, he said, should seriously check on express bus driver training, experience and physical fitness before allowing them to drive long distance.

“Some drivers who have just received their public service vehicle licence have been told to drive long distances immediately,” he said.

PMBOA president Datuk Ashfar Ali said bus drivers are “being paid well”, and he agrees that there should be training for them.

He said the Government should come into the picture by giving soft loans, such as those provided for unemployed graduates, for training for commercial vehicle driving.

“Driving a bus or lorry is a skill. It is like learning to use a computer,” he said.

He said the industry at the moment makes its new drivers work through a trial period on short-haul routes before “graduating” to long-distance drives.

Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board chairman Datuk Halimah Sadique said bus operators must look into the welfare of their drivers as a way to prevent mishaps.

“You can have a bus with a speed limiter and GPS but if the driver is not good or is inexperienced, it defeats the purpose of such technology,” she said.

“This is about the safety of people,” she said.

Currently, there is no centralised training programme for commercial vehicle drivers except for the Road Transport Department test for them to obtain their public service vehicle or goods driving licences.

An attempt was made in 2005 to make drivers of commercial vehicles undergo compulsory training at a privatised training facility but the proposal met strong objections and was postponed indefinitely.

No comments: