Australia’s (brief) idea for facilitating supply chains: young forklift drivers

MELBOURNE, Australia — The Australian government has tried all sorts of things to deal with a pandemic labor shortage: letting international students work longer hours. Reimbursement of visa fees to attract backpackers. Relaxation of isolation requirements for essential workers.

But letting kids drive forklifts?

On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison quickly backed out of a proposal, which he had floated the day before, to lower the minimum age for obtaining a forklift licence. Currently it is 18 in many Australian states.

Mr Morrison had planned, according to media reports, to present the concept to state and territory leaders as part of a series of proposals to reduce regulatory requirements for crucial segments of the workforce, as the he increase in the number of coronavirus cases is preventing many from working.

But after the idea was greeted with sober concern in some corners of Australia and wacky mockery in many others, the Prime Minister emerged on Thursday with an announcement: “We have agreed to go no further with the issue of 16-year-old forklift drivers. ”

“We had a good discussion about it today, and it’s not something that we believe, collectively, it’s something that we should be pursuing right now,” he added.

The damage was already done.

Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Andrew Barr noted in an apparent dig at the Prime Minister that while the assembled leaders had backed ‘reasonable and safe’ measures to ease workplace shortages, ‘allowing 16-year-olds to drive a forklift was unanimously rejected by all states and territories”.

And while the proposal was short-lived, the fun Australians had with it was not. Imaginations ran wild as people took to social media to imagine what a world with juvenile forklift drivers might look like.

“Kids driving forklifts is the kind of original thinking that could put this country back on track,” tweeted Josh Butler, journalist.

“My 12 year old would like to volunteer forklift driving,” noted Dr. Neela Janakiramanan, surgeon. “He has been double vaccinated but has no training or experience. It doesn’t concern him because he is 12 and can do anything.

Still, it’s all fun and games until your local KFC runs out of chicken. As in many places around the world, supply chains in Australia were blocked as the Omicron variant flooded a country that had largely contained the coronavirus for nearly two years.

In the United States, which faces a shortage of truckers, a federal pilot program will allow 18-year-olds to drive heavy commercial trucks, easing rules that require truckers crossing state lines to have at least 21 years old.

In Australia, an ever-increasing number of workers on all sides have had to take time off either because they tested positive or because they were considered close contacts and had to self-isolate. It has left Australia facing shortages of everything from sausages to toilet paper – once again.

Policymakers must walk a tightrope between keeping goods flowing and ensuring workers’ health and safety, said Elizabeth Jackson, a supply chain expert at Curtin University in Western Australia.

“We’re really facing a very, very difficult decision-making process about how we’re going to continue to move blood through our supply chains,” she said.

Another factor contributing to the labor crisis These are border restrictions that until recently barred migrant workers and backpackers, which Australia has traditionally relied on to fill roles like driving forklifts, Dr Jackson added.

To ease shortages, the Australian government announced last week that transport, freight and logistics workers would no longer have to self-isolate for seven days if they were identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. Instead, they can return to work as soon as they test negative on a rapid antigen test.

Business groups are pressure the government has relaxed isolation requirements for more industries, and some workplaces have required staff to come to work even positive for the virus. This sparked a backlash among unions, who have threatened to strike unless proper health and safety measures are taken.

“Australia is currently experiencing our worst days since the start of the pandemic and the highest level of illness ever seen in the working population,” the Australian Council of Trade Unions said in a statement. declaration this week.

“Essential workers are expected to put themselves at risk to keep the country going and, in many cases, without the protections they need,” he added.

Who will not be endangered are the workers who avoid underage forklift drivers.

as one person tweeted: “For sale: baby forklift, lamentable condition. »

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