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Hauliers to consider protests over carbon budget targets amid rising operating costs

Transport companies are already being hammered by rising costs, said the Irish Road Haulage Association.

Image: Leon Farrell

HAULAGE COMPANIES HAVE threatened protests over new Government targets for cutting carbon emissions across the economy.

The proposals are contained in a major report by the Climate Change Advisory Council, published this week, which recommends that the Government implement three consecutive five-year carbon budgets in a bid to reach its goal of halving emissions by 2030.

If adopted by the Oireachtas, the plan will set out limits on emissions for specific sectors, including transport and agriculture.

But speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme, Eugene Drennan, President of the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA), said hauliers will meet in the next fortnight to discuss whether they should protest the proposals.

“We are deeply concerned about the emissions cuts. We have been labelled as a sector that is going to get a heavy cut,” Drennan said.

He said that costs were already “astronomically high” for companies in the sector due to a shortage of drivers, increases to the Carbon Tax announced as part of Budget 2022 earlier this month and rising fuel costs in general.

“Nobody has seen the specific details in any sector — so that’s concern number one,” Drennan told The Journal this morning following his radio appearance.

But the main concern is we contributed €73 million in Carbon Tax last year. We’ll contribute over a €100 million next year. We’ve been paying carbon taxes now for about five years and fuel is already taxed to the hilt here.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan has said the sector-specific limits will be unveiled soon.

But Drennan said rising costs in other areas are hammering the transport sector this year. Petrol and diesel prices have increased sharply, partly related to higher crude oil prices due to a recovery in global demand.

The price of AdBlue — a diesel additive that reduces nitrogen oxide emissions in exhaust gases — has “doubled in price in recent months”, he said, due to sky-rocketing natural gas prices across the European Union.

AdBlue is a by-product of fertiliser, which is produced with ammonia derived from gas. But some fertiliser producers in the UK and across Europe have had to cut back production due to rising gas prices.

A long-flagged skills shortage coupled with the impact of the pandemic has led to a shortage of drivers in the run-up to Christmas.

Earlier this month, hauliers told The Journal that many Eastern European drivers used to drive UK landbridge routes from Ireland to mainland Europe. But since Brexit, those routes have become more difficult, the result of extra regulatory and customs checks, resulting in long delays.

So many drivers have gone back to Poland, and to the [former] Eastern bloc countries, and they avoided the hassle that way,” Wexford TD Verona Murphy — a former president of the IRHA — said.

This has meant that many companies have had to increase wages to attract workers.

Asked whether the prevalence of low pay within the transport sector was a contributing factor to the shortage, Drennan said there were certainly “pockets” within the industry where low wages were still an issue.

However, he said, “I’m delighted drivers have got increases this year and I do see pockets where it could be increased again. But at the top end, a lot of companies are at the max of the revenue they can get.”

Drennan said that many firms that use haulage companies have “steadfastly refused” to accept any increase to transport rates, despite the cost increases that trucking companies have incurred.

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“We have some very big PLCs that have been very slow to acknowledge our cost increases. So if you can’t collect the money, you can’t pay [more to drivers],” he added.

The Department of Transport established the National Logistics and Supply Chain Skills Group in 2019 to “support the promotion of careers, skills development and sustainable employment in the logistics and supply chain sectors”.

In a statement last month, the department told The Journal, “The Minister of State for Transport, Hildegarde Naughton TD, has asked the Group to examine the specific issue of driver shortage in the industry and make recommendations on actions that can be taken by Government to ameliorate the supply of qualified drivers.

Drennan said the report is expected to be presented to the minister before Christmas.

He said that greater support for HGV driver traineeship courses and broader recognition of non-EU HGV licences would help to alleviate the scarcity of drivers.

“I would hope that some of our commentary and our input into that and other Government fora might be heard,” he said.

“But at the moment, there’s very little sign that they’re hearing anything.”

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