… Gerton Hulsman urges. The cargo veteran knows the good but also the dark sides of the business almost second to none. As former Managing Director of Dusseldorf Airport Cargo, he always
pleaded for fair pay for ground handling personnel or couriers working for package delivery companies. They deserve respect and decent earnings because otherwise they will change industries
sooner or later, is Hulsman’s credo.
Even though he retired more than a year ago, he still keeps a close eye on developments in the industry, and continues to get directly involved. As his observation, written exclusively for CargoForwarder Global, clearly evidences.
It must have been almost a decade ago that I attended an IATA ground handling workshop somewhere on this planet. In separate working groups, we discussed quality in air cargo handling, warehouse, ramp issues, etc. At the meeting, we also touched on topics such as automation, robotization, artificial intelligence, and what not. Every topic was tabled, from improving quality to saving costs. The new process-thinking was born, and the customer would be served much better than before. That was the key outcome of the meeting, applauded by all participants.
Communist or unionist?
During one of these sessions, I raised my hand to comment. I said that the future would bring many changes and certainly lead to demanding challenges. During these processes of change, however, in my view, those who do the practical work on the floor should not be neglected. Without their commitment and dedication, improving quality is almost impossible. One precondition to keeping them on board is to pay handling staff decent wages and, at the same time, to train them better. Employers must give them the feeling that a big part of rendering good work/good service is in their hands, in spite of all the modern technology they work with. Motto: the heavy, physical work is still carried out by humans day after day.
This comment was met with laughter, and a VP Cargo from a major airline even asked me whether I was a communist or a trade unionist!
I am neither a commie nor a trade unionist, but someone with long experience in air freight handling. I have seen people who could not make a living with the money they earn, let alone properly feed their children and provide them a safe future, which, after all, is also our FUTURE!
In recent days, we are all reading and hearing that hardly any staff can be found to fill vacancies at warehouses to keep handling quality at proper levels. This particularly applies to low-skilled personnel deployed in freight handling. All this while the industry makes a fortune evidenced by record profit figures wherever one looks.
Little pay, no respect
Take the United Kingdom that is hit by a worsening shortage of lorry drivers, leading to empty supermarket shelves, and gas stations that have to be supplied with fuel by British Army soldiers due to the absence of drivers. Brexit has surely worsened the situation, but across the Channel, continental Europe is facing similar problems, jeopardizing the distribution of foodstuff, technical equipment, pharmaceutical products, and so on.
Finding capable staff willing to work “for a few bucks” day in, day out, in distribution centers or cargo terminals, has become a growing challenge. This development has retarding effects on the entire economy. The industry should ask itself if it is still attractive for people without academic degrees to work in transportation at cheap rates? I think not. According to my observation, the vast majority of these people lack not only sufficient income, but also respect.
For instance, it is a shame that truck drivers have to struggle to get a parking space overnight on European highways. They have to park their vehicles in insecure places along roads offering no sanitary facilities or shopping opportunities. Nighttime robberies are no longer an exception.
DHL’s Tom Mack points the way
The thriving e-commerce business has even worsened the situation because an increasing number of people is forced to work for a mere pittance to ensure their livelihood and keep their head above the water.
A few weeks ago, I read a message from Thomas Mack, Executive Vice President Global Airfreight DHL Global Forwarding, published in CargoForwarder Global.
In his statement, he took up the cudgels for the people I mentioned above, urging employers to pay them higher wages. If not, the industry will not find sufficient staff willing to handle cargo or deliver e-commerce items any longer.
I am encouraged by his comment, and I am convinced that Mr. Mack, too, is neither a communist nor a trade unionist.
Gerton Hulsman, Cargo Market Observer
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