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Posted on February 17th 2014 7:25 PM

A driver’s paycheque can be an unpredictable thing. This Truck News article highlights some fleets’ mission to find solutions, including exploring whether the thorny issue of hourly pay is as simple as it sounds

It’s a rare thing for employees to say they would be willing to accept less money, but a Kriska Transportation driver recently offered that very thing. The driver was happy enough with his annual take, amounting to about $60,000 a year, but fluctuating weekly payments were driving his wife to distraction. Even if an equalized compensation plan came with some sort of financial penalty, the driver told a fleet manager that he would be willing to accept the cost.

Peaks and valleys in pay cycles are commonplace throughout the trucking industry, particularly in jobs behind the wheel. And, productivity-based payments—whether by the mile, per load, or as a percentage of revenue—offer an added incentive to use time wisely. (Don’t delay when securing a load or sitting at a truck stop. If you want to make money, you need to move freight.) But the approach also exposes drivers to the burden of everything from traffic congestion to seasonal shipping demands which are beyond their control.

Increasingly, the burdens are becoming commonplace, rather than the rare exceptions they used to be.

“The list of non-driving activities is just getting longer and more time-consuming,” said Kriska Group CEO Mark Seymour, who is also chair of the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage.

“We pay for a lot of things other than just driving a truck and driving a mile, but who’s to say how long they take?”

An extra $7.50 for crossing the border may be enough if the crossing takes less than 30 minutes, but it amounts to pocket change after a three-hour delay; a fixed fee-per-distance seems fine at highway speeds, but downright depressing in the middle of a traffic jam; a payment for refueling faces a similar problem if there is a long lineup at the pumps. Aside from these examples, a long list of supplemental payments can leave inexperienced drivers wondering exactly what they can expect to make.

“For the time they put in, compensation packages for most truck drivers, but especially long-haul drivers, are no longer competitive with other industries,” the Blue Ribbon Task Force concluded after it explored the role that compensation models play in attracting future drivers. “On average truck drivers make [or slightly exceed] the average annual wage for all workers. However, they tend to work significantly more hours to make that wage. In addition, truck drivers are not always compensated for all of their time on the job.”

Hourly pay

Debates about potential solutions often turn to some form of hourly pay, but the answer is not straightforward.

“An hourly pay system is not a panacea for solving the driver shortage across the industry. Unlike some industries where there is more flexibility to work longer hours during periods of peak demand, truck driver hours are capped by the hours of service regulations,” the task force report observed. “The reality is that drivers do inevitably arrive at some sort of per-hour calculation of what they are paid. Carriers must be competitive with each other. The key is not necessarily how drivers are paid, but how much they are paid.”

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