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Transporters’ strike could cause food shortage, say wholesalers

SAMAA | - Posted: Jan 13, 2020 | Last Updated: 5 months ago
Posted: Jan 13, 2020 | Last Updated: 5 months ago
Transporters’ strike could cause food shortage, say wholesalers

Photo: Online

If the strike by goods transporters doesn’t end soon, wholesalers will run out of supplies of essential items, including food, market sources tell SAMAA Digital.

Goods transporters say the strike was to continue indefinitely but since the government has listened to them, it’s likely the deadlock will end today (Monday).

The consequences of strikes such as these for wholesalers are grave—they will run out of supplies, which will eventually affect retailers and consumers. Since the strike began on January 6, the logistics chain has been disrupted. This is because the association representing the goods transporters has more than 400,000 truckers under its umbrella and can choke the goods supply chain.

“The government thinks it will recover all the deficits in the economy by fleecing transporters,” said Imad Naqvi, of the United Goods Transport Alliance Pakistan.

This sentiment was echoed by other transports on the eighth day of the strike on Monday.

The strike was called following an October protest on the M-9 Motorway. Truckers were protesting against the FWO, which had stopped them from carrying loads more than what the NHSO permits. On its fourth day, the protest turned violent and three people died.  

January’s strike halted both exports and domestic supply of goods and has affected manufacturers and exporters as their export consignments await transportation. “All over Pakistan our trucks are parked and we will not resume working until all our demands are met,” stressed Naqvi.

“We usually have goods stocked for 10 days before running out,” said Asif Ali, a wholesaler based in Karachi. “When such strikes continue for prolonged periods, they usually create panic and hoarders capitalise on the crisis.”

Ali lamented that in the case of perpetual strikes, wholesale markets literally run out of essential supplies and the spill over effect is seen in other commodities too, creating a panic.

So far, that crisis has been averted but it could become an issue again. The truckers say they’re calling off their protest for a month. “Our demands are now being taken seriously by the government and the prime minister has delegated the Sindh governor to resolve our genuine complaints,” said Pakistan Goods Transport President Malik Shahzad Awaz.

He said they’re giving the government 30 days to fulfil their demands.

According to Naqvi, their main demands are:

  • The imposition of the axle-load policy, which means trucks can’t carry more than 15% of their permitted load
  • The reversal of what they’re calling exorbitant fines by highway authorities
  • Centralization of the authority that grants quick HTV driving licences to over 800,000 truckers across the country. They say their drivers have old licences that the government has cancelled and the drivers cannot go through the three-year waiting period to qualify for the licence again
  • Legal proceedings in the case of the deaths of three truckers who were killed during the October protest

Under the National Highway Safety Ordinance 2000, trucks with two axles can carry 17.5 tonnes of goods, three-axle vehicles can carry 27.5 tonnes, four-axle vehicles 39.5 tonnes, five-axle vehicles 48 tonnes and six- axle vehicles 58.5 tonnes. That’s both the weight of the vehicle and the goods.

“We refurbished our trucks in a way that their extra body-weight can be reduced for them to carry as much load as possible as per NHSO rules,” explained Naqvi, who claimed that collectively, truckers have lost billions because of this. It costs about Rs750,000 to refurbish each truck.

“But the government has deferred this by capitulating to the threats of industrialists and we have to carry more weight, risking our vehicles and drivers to meet their demands.”

The transporters say the industries, in order to save themselves logistics costs, overload their trucks so fewer vehicles can be used to carry more goods. They claim the government has yielded to their threats of hiking the cost of materials, which may result in even higher inflation.

Transporters say their vehicles are at risk because of this, as the brake system isn’t as effective and the likelihood of accidents increases. They’re also angry because they say the authorities charge them massive fines for carrying the extra weight but still allow it to be loaded onto their trucks.

Under Section 75 of the Ordinance, whoever drives a vehicle or causes or allows a vehicle to be driven on a national highway carrying in excess of 15% of the permissible load for a goods vehicle as laid down in the sixth schedule, will be punished with imprisonment for a month or a fine between Rs1,000 and Rs5,000 or both.

An official of the NHA told SAMAA Digital that the protesters’ demands are justified. The problem, he said, lies in the fact that the government announced the deferment of the Ordinance last year but without any official notification, the NHA and FWO are still implementing the Ordinance.

“This depreciates our roads and the repairs cost billions. The axle regime is there for a reason. They are followed internationally and they ensure safety,” he said.

This paradox is where the problem lies. The transporters want the authorities to make an exception to the 15% excessive weight policy. “If we load as per law, we don’t get orders and if we load as per clients’ demands, we are charged excessively by authorities. We need relief from somewhere,” they said.

A goods transporter in Faisalabad, the hub of Pakistan’s textile industry, said they have gotten complaints from industries because they have to meet export deadlines since Easter is coming. Our demands are just and we have had enough, he said. His company runs 50 to 60 trucks every day, transporting textiles like hosiery, thread rolls, cotton and even clothes for export.

“On average, the textile industry loses Rs2 billion to Rs3 billion and it comes with the risk of losing foreign contracts as well,” according to Faisalabad-based journalist Usman Siddique, who has been following the crisis.

This not hurts Pakistan’s export outlook and will be reflected on the current account deficit, but will also affect daily wagers and labourers.

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