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Safety reforms and new tax system threaten to drag down Japan trucking industry

21 Comments
Photo: MasaoTaira/iStock

"Goodbye, fresh mangoes" seems a strange way to lead off an article, since the unavailability of mangoes, which are something of a luxury item for most Japanese, hardly seems likely to spur a great deal of anguish.

But Weekly Playboy (Jan 22) thinks this is a good way to make its point, which is that with a new law capping the working hours of truck drivers at 3,300 hours per year -- 216 hours fewer than the previous regulatory statute -- coming into effect from this April, those juicy mangoes from farms in Miyazaki Prefecture may be in unsellable condition by the time they make it to retail stores in Tokyo.

"Getting particularly fresh items that are easily damaged to market won't be possible any more," is how the magazine puts it.

What's more, legislators have put teeth into the new law, as strict penalties await violators.

"Overtime, which was effectively unlimited up to now, has been capped at 960 hours per year. Violators face imprisonment of up to six months, and/or suspension of business activities," business journalist Fujio Morita tells the magazine. 

"According to an investigation by the Labor Ministry, in companies ranging from parcel delivery to long-distance trucking, drivers who exceeded 3,300 hours per year accounted for 21.7% of the total. For long distance drivers alone, the figure came to 31.8%," Takashi Takayama, president of a firm that delivers e-commerce goods, tells the magazine. "A simple calculation would show that between 20% to over 30% of goods won't get delivered."

To limit work to the requisite 3,300 hours per year, a driver can work no more than 12 hours per day. "With loading time and breaks worked in, a driver departing from southern Kyushu will have already reached his limit before making it as far as Kansai," says Takayama.

As far as mangoes are concerned, "I suppose we'll have to withdraw from the business of transporting fresh produce, which become unsellable after a few days. Mangoes are a specialty item in Miyazaki, but we won't be able to deliver fresh mangoes to markets or supermarkets in the greater Tokyo area."

So how will the companies get around the restrictions? The main focus of operations is likely to shift to use of multiple drivers.

That won't solely affect retail businesses, but transport customers will have to pay additional charges.

"Supermarkets frequently hold special sales on weekends. This means the action focuses on Fridays, when the warehouses are filled up with goods. A waiting time of 2 to 3 hours to unload and transfer the produce will cause the system to break down," said a source in the food wholesaling industry. "It's a fact that those special sales cause an extension of working hours. From April, when the new system goes into effect, I expect that special sales will become much more difficult."

The pinch is already being felt among some customers. Yamato transport company announced last June it would suspend next-day delivery services or confine such services to more limited areas.

And what about e-commerce giants like Amazon?

"Many of the delivery agents used by Amazon are not companies but owner-drivers. The bureaucracy has not extended its hourly restrictions to these small operators, so it's not expected to have much of an effect on Amazon," Morita remarks.

Nevertheless, the newly imposed invoicing system will lead some small businesses operators to curtail or halt operations in order to hold annual income to under ¥10 million per year -- the cut-off figure for exemption from the 10% consumption tax requirement.

"Concerns have arisen that more delivery agents will quit working for Amazon as well," Morita warns.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

21 Comments
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How about using the railway systems?

Much better and safer.

And people can get their mangoes!

11 ( +11 / -0 )

"Overtime, which was effectively unlimited up to now, has been capped at 960 hours per year. Violators face imprisonment of up to six months, and/or suspension of business activities," business journalist Fujio Morita tells the magazine.

Businesses will abuse this as they are facing a driver shortage. And they want to to extract the maximum from workers with struggle wages until they have to invest in this in a few years.

https://www.reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/aurora-opens-first-commercial-route-driverless-trucks-2023-11-01/

3 ( +5 / -2 )

How about using the railway systems?

It takes too long and is more costly. Said mangos still have to go from the field to the packing house by truck and unless the rail line has a spur at the packing house the mangos would have to go back on a truck to go to the rail head. On the other end of the trip a truck would have to pick up the mangos and take them to their destination. It is less costly and faster to simply truck them from the packing house to their destination. Rail transport of freight is only economical when you have really big loads going from one place to another, like a coal train or double stack containers from a port to a big city a thousand kilometers or more away.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Behind every business 'crisis' is a group of parasitic owners who take way more than their fair share and refuse to budge while the people actually doing the driving have to drive for over 12 hours a day to make a decent living.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Pay more to workers,job done.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

3,300 hours per year with two weeks off for holidays, 50 work weeks, gives the driver a 66 hours on the job per week. Please tell me why anyone should be expected to work longer hours than those? When is the driver allowed to have a home life?

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Losing availability of some products seems like a justifiable thing if the industry is no longer allowed to abuse drivers and increase the risk of accidents in the roads.

Unfortunately the much more pressing problems are the drivers mentioned at the end of the articles, Amazon is getting huge profits and growth by abusing them and there is almost no effort in correcting this.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Sometimes when trains when stopped at a station change drivers. Would it be possible for trucks to do this, too? The big takkyubin companies have depots all over the place.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Drivers don't need to pack or unpack their own cargoes. Others can do that, so the un/loading hours won't count. Luxury goods will ship by air or private courier. Some drivers will use up their annual quota seasonally to transport food products. Amazon will switch to the postal service or couriers. Delivering every other day halves working hours: just use a larger truck.

You will see a rise in prices, more 48 hour delivery rather than next day, bigger trucks and a small amount of stuff will vanish from the supermarket shelves, becoming the preserve of richer people than you.

This is one of a progressive regime of cost increases and supply limitations being rolled out globally. No change for the rich, more cost and less availability for the poor. UK supermarkets used to be filled with food. Now the range is sparse, the supply is poor and the quality has dipped. It won't be so bad in Japan as Japan hasn't gone the full Brexit. It's probably designed to prepare people for border closures and wartime rationing.

And yes, Japan could use Shinkansen freight trains to erase substantial intra-city hours of driving. They just need to tweak the trains and the infrastructure. The idea that it is in any way 'unworkable' is hilarious. Rail freight has worked fine for over a century in many countries.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Typo. intercity. Not intra-city.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sometimes when trains when stopped at a station change drivers. Would it be possible for trucks to do this, too? The big takkyubin companies have depots all over the place.

Trucking companies in the US do this now. Or, you have a driving team where one driver is driving while the other is in the sleeper notionally getting some rest. The problem is that trucking companies all want their drivers to work the longest possible hours they will accept so they can move more freight with fewer drivers. Even when I was doing local delivery employers wanted us to work 12-14 hours every day.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Drivers don't need to pack or unpack their own cargoes. Others can do that,

Naive. Many drivers deliver at night when there is no one on the delivery site. They have keys or security codes to open necessary doors so they can make the delivery. Think about most fast food joints, their foods are delivered in the wee hours by a driver working alone. I used to deliver gasoline all night in big tank trucks. I loaded and unloaded my own truck, five or six deliveries a night. At some big warehouses like grocery company warehouses there might be people called "Lumpers" the driver can pay to unload their truck, but they have to stand there and supervise because the place they are making the delivery to will hold them and their employer responsible for any mistakes or dock injuries.

Trucking is a rough industry with a lot of not very nice people in management barking orders and getting into people's faces yelling F-bombs. Everyone in the supply chain wants their stuff yesterday and nobody has an ounce of patience. I can still hear my dispatcher screaming at me "what do you mean your're stuck in traffic? The customer is calling and wants their load NOW".

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Behind every business 'crisis' is a group of parasitic owners who take way more than their fair share and refuse to budge while the people actually doing the driving have to drive for over 12 hours a day to make a decent living.

It would be nice to know the actual reason the government gave for the new restriction.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

To limit work to the requisite 3,300 hours per year, a driver can work no more than 12 hours per day.

Good.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Thanks Desert Tortoise for some experienced insight.

I can still hear my dispatcher screaming at me "what do you mean your're stuck in traffic? The customer is calling and wants their load NOW".

This is a crucial problem, maybe the most crucial of the situation.

Everyone - including me - wants it and wants it NOW.

Same day/Next day/2 days delivery esp for online goods is the norm.

2 years ago I ordered 4 Winter tires (big & heavy) online from Kanto and they arrived 2 days later.

The delivery cost was ¥500/tire.

I live 750kms away.

This is not sustainable.

Instant society is not sustainable.

People have to be more patient and understanding and not expect the impossible.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

OMG we must have our luxury food item when we want it! Even if it destroys truck drivers' quality of life or compromises road safety.

This sounds like the worst kind of entitlement. Shame on any news outlet claiming this is the kind of problem worthy of national attention in Japan. Heiwa boke at its worst.

Anyone selling mangoes in department stores in Tokyo is a rich farmer, a big operation. It is not some old lady with a little plot supplementing her meagre pension.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What about this new change in Law from the Delivery Drivers perspective ?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ideas:

1) use refrigerated trailers

2) use sleeper tractors, so the only time the tractor has to stop is to refuel or switch drivers.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Getting particularly fresh items that are easily damaged to market won't be possible any more," is how the magazine puts it.

Oh dear, however will I get my greasy mangoes without a legalized system of servitude?

I think somehow, the market will solve this “crisis” and I’ll manage.

“Wont be possible anymore using THUS out-moded unproductive distribution system.”

There, fixed it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Everything is on a truck either as raw material or finished product. The world economy is delivered by truck.

Mangoes and some very limited perishables are the exception, not the rule. Japan doesn’t have as much warehousing infrastructure as some other countries, but still has a good amount.

The Amazon/Yamato next-day model is driven by unreasonable competition fueling unreasonable consumer expectations. The consumer wants it at the lowest price and bring it to my door now.

The consumer doesn’t care if the drivers work 20 hours per day, bring me my cookies I ordered from my phone because I don’t want to go to the store because I’m too busy watching TikTok.

I’ll go online while I’m waiting and talk about treating drivers fairly, though. Where are my cookies?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japan has always used the public highways as a giant free warehouse. As said elsewhere they will have to build some regional distribution centers and change up their shipping practices accordingly. It will work just fine once they get over the complaint phase and realize how much money they can make.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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