December 17 , 2021
9 mins read

Are Indian Truck Drivers Happy With Their Job?

Punit Chotia
Punit Chotia
Are Indian Truck Drivers Happy With Their Job?
Are Indian Truck Drivers Happy With Their Job?
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According to a report by Sightsavers, 5 million truck drivers work across India’s vast road network. They say truck drivers form the backbone of the Indian economy; they are the unsung heroes, often forgotten by people. Truckers work gruelling hours, often live in hostile conditions, and spend weeks and months crisscrossing the country’s seemingly never-ending highway networks. But, when it comes to their journeys and lives, there’s little that we know.

This is because truck driving in India isn’t necessarily considered to be a glamorous occupation, a fact which is quite paradoxical, because truck driving is the artery that makes India’s economy function on a day-to-day level by transporting goods from one place to another. Nonetheless, that does not put a dent in the work that truckers do for us.

Ever noticed trucks having interesting phrases painted all over the vehicles? One such phrase that we commonly see on Indian trucks is, “Road is King”. For them, a truck is the supreme vehicle with regard to the highways. Their trucks reflect the superiority through artworks and designs done on trucks.

Life of truck drivers in India

For truckers, truck driving is not a mere occupation, it’s a lifestyle. They invest in their trucks, designing them extravagantly and cheerfully. Their driving cabins are spacious since they spend most of their time in them, and they often carry cooking materials and food items in case they are not able to have their meal at a roadside dhaba. Since travel is an integral part of the truck driving job, they experience the landscape and seasons like no one else does. Due to time constraints, they often have to make do without sleeping for many hours. They are mentally tough and determined to take up huge tasks.

However, there are some challenges that need to be addressed - challenges posed by security, financial systems, bureaucracy, and problems on the road. Truck drivers are vulnerable to external dangers such as extortion, harassment, and road accidents, and they are also underpaid due to several reasons. Nevertheless, there are a lot of untapped opportunities in the truck driving business. Since trucks are an integral part of our roads, there is a huge scope for marketing and advertisements that truck drivers can be a part of.

Indian truck drivers vs foreign truck drivers

Currently, the conditions for Indian truck drivers are a lot worse when compared with their Western counterparts. This is due to several factors, ranging from respect given to the drivers to compensation.

Parameters

Indian truck drivers

Foreign truck drivers

Better Compensation

Indian truck drivers work in a highly regulated compensation structure

Western truck companies operate in a highly transparent, formalized, structured, and accountable environment. Therefore, truck drivers get better deals in terms of compensation and other benefits.

Social Structure

Truck driving in India is an underpaid and neglected profession, and therefore, people from the lower strata of society often take up these businesses, abetting the lack of respectability and representation of the truck driving profession.

Western truck drivers face no such obstacle in their profession.

Superior Training

No proper truck driving training received

Western truck drivers receive finer truck driving training and guidance which help them reduce and mitigate risks when encountered.

Transparent System

In India, the industry is not transparent and organized. 

A typical transport company in the West puts out all its offers on the website and a trucker chooses the option that aligns with his needs and preferences.

Stronger Government Support

Indian truck drivers do not get access to health insurance and other benefits, guaranteed income, work-life balance, more driving options, best trucks and equipment, etc.

In the West, truckers have adequate support from and representation in the legislative bodies. Hence, they get better opportunities in terms of work environment than what Indian truckers get.

More Respect

In India, truck driving is more of a compulsion rather than a passion. It is not regarded as a skilful and worthy job.

Transport business in the West is considered a respectable and working man’s profession. Everyone, from college students to experienced professionals, takes up the opportunity, if they think it suits their needs and preferences.

Truckers abroad live a standard life, why can’t Indian truckers do so?

According to an article in The Hindu, “Poor wages, bad facilities and lonely hours on the highways for Indian truck drivers have meant fewer aspirants and an acute shortage, despite a growing economy.”

A typical day in an Indian trucker’s life comprises 16-18 hours of driving, followed by short tea and meal breaks, they sleep in the medium-sized cabins of their trucks in miserable conditions, and often they have to prepare their meals themselves. Above all, they are subject to harsh time constraints. For example, if they do not deliver the goods to the marketplace on time, because of external circumstances such as traffic jams, their salaries are deducted, regardless of the reason for the unpunctuality.  When they are not driving trucks, they face social discrimination in their communities and constantly struggle with financial problems.

On the other hand, European truck drivers live a standard life. They are paid good, fixed salaries as well as big commissions in the form of variable pay. For them, truck driving is as good an occupation as other white-collar jobs. They have ample time to spend with their families and friends, and often enjoy other benefits such as job security, health insurance, and government protection from extortion and harassment. The European Union (EU) has ensured that truck drivers are provided with the safety net they need to be protected from grinding work culture.

1. A fixed upper limit on the number of operations: According to European Union (EU) regulations, transport businesses are not allowed to initiate more than 3 transport operations in seven days. If a truck company violates any of these laws, they are fined with hefty sums of penalties that are much higher than the profits earned. Therefore, it does not make sense for trucking companies to break the law.

2. Provision for better wages: The European Union ( EU) and even the Congress in the United States of America have laid out a set of concise and clear directives on how the pricing should be structured for truck drivers in the regions under their jurisdiction. Truckers are offered handsome, fixed and variable pay in addition to increased wages in times of increased demands.

3.    Well-defined driving and rest periods: In Europe, the regulation on driving and rest periods clearly states that drivers must have a regular weekly rest period, at least once every two consecutive weeks. The regulation also defines that rest must not be taken in the vehicle. Member states of the European Union (EU) strictly enforce this law. Moreover, the regulation also imposes restrictions on the length of the driving periods in a given day, week or fortnight.

4. Regular auditing of truck companies: The governments also make sure that regular auditing and monitoring of truck companies are conducted to make sure that there is no breach of the law and to ensure that truck drivers' voices are not suppressed by big, giant corporations.

5. Unionized and structured transport business: Unlike in India, in Europe, truck driver unions play an important role in guaranteeing truck drivers’ safety and good finances. They also communicate with the authorities to smoothen out any frictions created between different stakeholders on various issues, and lobby with them to carry out reforms they deem are necessary. They carry out on-field investigations to explore any exploitative practices within the Industry.

Truck driving in India: More of a compulsion than passion.

In an interview with The Mint, trucker Arju Yadav says, “I was on a 30-40 km (20-25 mile) journey earlier this month to deliver a consignment of biscuits when I was stopped by police for defying a coronavirus lockdown, beaten and made to do sit-ups.”

That’s why you probably have never heard an academician or an early-career professional say that he/she wants to be a truck driver. And, there are several reasons for it:

1. Social stigma: In India, truck driving, in general, is considered a lowly job because it does not require any formal training, although it should be subject to a formal training procedure. People from lower socio-economic backgrounds undertake the truck driving profession because it is not capital-intensive.

2.  Lack of opportunities: Since a very strong social stigma is attached to the truck driving occupation, other industries do not deem truckers worthy of their professions. For them, truck drivers are trouble rousers with few to no abilities. Therefore, once an individual takes up the truck driving profession, chances of him/her coming out of that profession are very less.

3.    Economic woes: Truck driving is a highly exploited and underpaid job. Truckers do not get the fair share of compensation they deserve. Given the amount of truck driving they do, the compensation is minuscule. Often, they have to bear the additional costs of travelling and have to depend on other sources of income such as agriculture to make ends meet. Their families often live in extreme poverty. In a survey conducted by Sightsavers, 64.2% of truck drivers reported that they were not doing anything about their eye problems.

4. Lack of safety: Since truck drivers spend most of their lives on roads, they are subject to various kinds of security threats such as robbery, accidents, harassment by locals and even by law enforcement authorities.

5. Absence of representation: In India, there is no nationwide union representing the interests of truck drivers, and therefore, their voices are not heard by the authorities and other stakeholders in the industry. Due to a lack of representation, they are forced to succumb to flawed deals and harsh working conditions.

Can truck driving be a mainstream occupation in India?

Presently, the truck driving industry is broken and fragmented, leading to instability and ambiguity in every aspect of the business. Due to this, truck driving is not a preferred choice of occupation for anyone. It is regarded as a blue-collar job, and blue-collared jobs are not treated as mainstream in society. Several reforms are needed within the industry to make truck driving a mainstream occupation in India.

Firstly, a comprehensive set of rules and regulations should be put in place by the government with regard to transparency and accountability. Truck drivers should also be incentivized to undergo training and mentorship before starting. Governments, startups, and other stakeholders should come together to fix the compensation structure and to ensure that truck drivers are getting other benefits like health insurance and life insurance. Furthermore, there is a need for society to improve its perspective when it comes to viewing truck driving as an occupation.

Truck driving is a workstream that demands not only tangible skills like driving but also intangible skills like mental rigidity, concentration, attention to detail, critical thinking, and leadership skills. Employers should consider the experience in the truck driving profession as an asset for this very reason. This will certainly enhance the value of the profession and help it become aspirational and mainstream for generations to come.

Should you opt for truck driving as a career?

Advantages:

1. Government Intervention: With the help of technology, the fragmented truck driving industry is being lent a platform to push out unnecessary stakeholders and other intermediaries. The Ministry of Road Transportation has been working with the truck companies and agents to facilitate better working conditions for truckers.

2. Support through the startup space: Various startups are coming up to mitigate the risks involved in the transport business, attracting both digital and traditional media attention towards the subject and creating awareness among the public.

3. Increased awareness: Thanks to the effort by the youth and globalization, society is becoming more considerate towards truck drivers. The social stigma that has always surrounded the community is now being removed.

Disadvantages:

1. No option to switch careers: If a trucker has worked for a truck company, chances of him getting a chance to switch the career lever in any other industry are low. This is because it is assumed that truck driving is not a skill-intensive occupation.

2. Vulnerability to external circumstances: Truckers and transport companies are exposed to all kinds of dangers such as harassment and extortion on the road as well as red-tapism.

3. Present economic situation: Due to the various gaps and corruption within the compensation process, truckers get a meagre salary. It’s very hard to make ends meet in the current circumstances.

The effect of the pandemic on Indian trucking

Although the lockdowns affected truckers, as they were forced to take harsh measures, the pandemic has still managed to shift the dialogue in favour of truck drivers to some extent. During the lockdowns, when there was a severe shortage of trucker headcount, people and policymakers did realize the importance of the truck driving community, and several measures were proposed to bring them back to work. Moreover, standardization and formalization within the transport business have accelerated. For example, the use of container trucks over flat top truckers has increased over time. Container trucks are strictly built around the standard specifications and goods carried within them are more formalized and specific.

Conclusion

Historically, the Indian ruling administration has put a lot of emphasis on the travel facilities such as highways, food, and accommodation aspects, but, there has been a saddening indifference to the challenges truckers face.

The systems currently in place are suboptimal, to say the least, where drivers have access to much less information than their counterparts in other industries. This leads to a big information asymmetry, which is leveraged by owners, consignors, and operators at the expense of truck drivers. There is no transparency when it comes to dealings or contracts between the intermediaries who, therefore, corner a disproportionate share of the money. The pricing is at such a level that the truck drivers do not get a fair price. Even in the times of increased goods demands such as festivals, when the price rises heavily, the increase in the price does not pass on to truckers, not to the level it should. And, therefore, it becomes even more important for startups such as Vahak to connect truckers with other stakeholders through their platforms.

Vahak is India’s largest online platform for booking loads and lorries. On the Vahak app, truck drivers can attach their vehicle and get 1,000+ bids from shippers. Vahak also lets truck drivers bid on the load of their choice, get the best rate and grow their business! Download the Vahak transport app today.

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