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Not too many lonely nights!

25th November 1966
Page 62
Page 63
Page 62, 25th November 1966 — Not too many lonely nights!
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

By John Darker

AMBIM T HAD not spent long in the company of senior executives of 1 Nortank Ltd. before my appetite was whetted by a trenchant expression of opinion. "Professional tanker operators", it was suggested, "can operate very much more efficiently and profitably than the large petroleum companies whose productivity schemes have made so many headlines in recent months".

Could this be so? Is it conceivable that the productivity scheme worked out by Nortank in collaboration with the United Road Transport Union could match, let alone exceed, elaborate, consultant-backed productivity schemes developed by AngloAmerican companies whose resources in wealth and management know-how are almost unlimited?

From the standpoint of the professional haulier one hopes the confident assertion is true. My discussion with Nortank certainly provided grounds for believing that the petroleum companies publicity fanfare may have been pitched in too high a key, laying overmuch stress on the optimum benefits of paper schemes without solid evidence of their practicability.

Nortank Ltd. is my own name for an old-established firm of tanker operators whose activities lie north of Sheffield but south of Newcastle. For the purpose of this article, the firm prefers to remain anonymous, but it has provided full information on its productivity arrangements.

All transport productivity schemes start from a "base area" containing at least two elements. The first element comprises the traditional road transport norms encompassing low basic pay and long working week with productivity (in terms of work actually done) geared to the past rather than to the present.

The second element, with which all transport managers are closely concerned, relates to the costs/operational pattern of the business— a pattern that must be profitable if the business is to survive.

Before Nortank introduced a productivity scheme its drivers, with traditions going back to the horse-drawn era, worked excess hours to suit themselves. Until motorways were available it was difficult to control the considerable padded time booked by drivers; the trunk road network, in terms of safe average speeds possible, bore no comparison.

Faced with rising costs and the need for vehicle replacement Nortank's managers decided to grasp the productivity nettle. All the regular jobs would be timed, they determined; vehicle recorders would be fitted; and actual and potential operating profit margins for routine jobs would be worked out.

In test runs to determine reasonable target times the drivers' own representative travelled with the specified vehicles. The agreed times were worked out with some care, and commonsense was applied. Both sides agreed at the outset that in assessing target times the rough must be taken with the smooth. Even so, provision was made whereby any driver could call for a recheck at any time—the management accepted that circumstances could change, not always to the advantage of the employee.

Nortank specified the fitting of recorders to all vehicles, Servis for local operations and Speedograph for journey work: "At first we found some vehicles were being caned. Some drivers did daily mileages approaching 400", I was told. "We don't expect drivers to exceed the statutory 40 m.p.h., though we would exclude from this reasonable spurts for overtaking on motorways, but Speedograph records (recording speeds as well as time and distance) prove that long distance drivers can comfortably do 300 to 320 miles a day, with time for unloading included."

Speedograph recorder charts, I learned, can reveal almost perfect driving performance. Nortank proved that one idiotic driver had driven an artic tanker at 62 m.p.h. constantly on a 46-mile stretch of motorway. He was promptly sacked, for the chart not onl: proved excessive speeds; it proved that some stopping place detail given by the driver were false.

How do drivers take to recorders? Nortank's experience afte meeting initial hostility is that drivers increasingly appreciate tha the instruments are there to help them.

A productivity scheme is not a "once for all time" exercise. 1 demands constant servicing and improvements in operating pre cedures in which the co-operation of drivers is vital. This should b obvious to everyone but the point is worth stressing, for som readers may imagine that once the problem of driver incentive i settled everything else may be ignored. Of course, this is a fallacy; in transport operations economic.; are of the essence. So the Nortank management spared no pains tx rationalize their fleet operations, marrying services here, seekim reciprocal traffic there—generally cleaning up operations which ir the course of years had become unimaginatively stereotyped.

Tanker operations can be made vastly more profitable if the per centage of empty running can be cut down. Arrangements with friendly customers or other tanker operators for the steam-cleanim of tanks to enable return loads to be fitted into tight schedules hay( yielded valuable dividends to Nortank.

Nortank's productivity agreement with the United Roac Transport Union provides for a guaranteed 59-hour week made up by five 11 hours on weekdays and four hours on Saturday It is a condition of the agreement that the management has the righi to offer any appropriate type of work; drivers are expected to under take tank cleaning, vehicle washing or simple maintenana operations. Overtime, holidays and annual holidays are in accord ance with RHWC agreements.

The basis for the productivity bonus scheme rests upon a simpli lime/mileage chart drawn up for 20 mph vehicles with an assessec average of 16.5 mph. At this average speed 181 miles can be corn pleted in 11 hours, and the drivers' incentive lies in the payment oi one hour's basic pay for every additional 16.5 miles covered. Any loading time incurred after the accumulated time exceeds 11 hour: is paid at the rate of time and quarter.

Regular jobs where turn-round time is known are assessed on ar agreed journey time basis, with an allowance for servicing time the broad effect being to provide comparable incentive rewards.

To encourage long service and act as a constant spur there is E service and efficiency bonus which rises from £10 after one year's employment to £.50 in five years. This bonus is payable quarterly and it can be forefeited in whole or part for a vehicle accident, for bad time-keeping, unauthorized absence or following disciplinary action. The bonus payments are made on the pay day following the last date in March, June and September, but payment of the December bonus is effected before the Christmas holiday.

Nortank is an old-established firm with a tradition that could be described as benevolent. In keeping with this the directors devised a retiring gratuity scheme and this, in practice, reinforces the service and efficiency bonus payments for it stresses that regular attention to customer's needs, civility, care of vehicles and regular attendance re expected of employees throughout their service with the ompany.

The retiring gratuity scheme, which is entirely non-contributory. Tovides for the retirement of male employees at 65 and female mployees at 60. Subject to satisfactory service, of which the direc ors are the sole arbiters, a gratuity of £5 is paid for each year of ompleted service. Fully paid insurance policies are taken out in the Lame of the employees involved and I understand that the arrangeaents for a driver completing 40 years' service would yield a sum in he region of £500 as a retirement award.

To provide for unforeseen exigencies, the directors have ruled hat the scheme is ex gratia and may be discontinued without prior iotice but in this, unlikely, event, qualifying service before the :essation would yield a proportionate award at retirement age.

4dministration of bonus scheme The actual hours taken on jobs are recorded by Nortank drivers, my bonus time due being checked by office staff. It is accepted with dl payment by results schemes that workers should know how the ichemes work and be able to calculate without difficulty their bonus earnings. My impression at Nortank was that some drivers did find a little difficulty in calculating their earnings partly arising from their operations from a dispersal base away from the headquarters of the ..eompany. Nortank drivers are required to claim bonus hours due to them; "If they don't claim they don't get the money", I was told. knd though the management was confident that new drivers earned the "bonus ropes" in 24 hours it is my view that it would be oreferable for bonus assessment and calculation to be wholly a management function—the risk that drivers will fail to claim for :heir rightfnlly earned bonus may be a small one, but it may happen occasionally, with unfortunate effects on both sides when adjustment is called for.

If Nortank drivers on distance work are unable to get their vehicle back to base within statutory hours they are authorized to make their own way home, and normal subsistence is paid. The vehicle must, of course, be properly parked, and it is the driver's responsibility to return to it promptly the next day.

In recent years many road hauliers have found increasing difficulty in recruiting drivers for distance work. The Nortank/ URTU productivity scheme has proved that long-distance opera

tions do not necessitate men being away from home at all frequently. "Wives want their men to earn high wages but not at the expense of too many lonely nights."

Nortank drivers' earnings fluctuate seasonally and there are variations in take-home pay for different types of operation.

A driver on contract work doing 800 miles a week who was home every night earned £28 gross. Generally, earnings for six days were in the range £25-£28 per week gross, and the average earnings of all drivers was around £1100 p.a. It should be remembered that with a guaranteed 59-hour week, yielding in the region of £19.10.8d to most drivers, seasonal earnings cannot fall too markedly.

,Nortank undertake a substantial amount of contract work for oil companies some of whom employ contractors for as much as one

third of their operations. Nortank executives believe that the rigid shift pattern (5 x 8 hr duties, or 4)< 10 hrs) prescribed by certain oil companies has seriously reduced their operating efficiency.

"Eleven hours cannot be condensed to eight", I was told. "You may manage to do the job in 9+, but that is the limit on some operations". Nortank quite uninhibitedly criticised the effects of the BRS initiative in paying a 15 per cent bonus to compensate for the reduc tion from 11 to 10 hours a day. "The 10 hours, perforce, is creeping up now", it was suggested. "Had BRS provided a realistic cash incentive they would have found that drivers would get from London to Liverpool in eight hours, with time to get unloaded in one day. Our men do it well enough".

I asked Nortank if it had problems with driver recruitment. "We take a lot of trouble", I was told. "Recently, when we needed a reliable man, we had 68 applicants. We checked references and interviewed a large number, and picked the best of the bunch". Generally, Nortank prefers men in the 40 to 50 age group. Nortank, who is an RHA member, was not impressed with the RHA's blanket rate increase proposals. Despite the competitive tanker trade it absorbed the higher wage costs in 1964 and 1965 and is reviewing the position in the light of the 1966 award, SET and other rising costs. "Generally, we'd rather get more business and expand our turnover than put up our rates", I was told. "When the RHA proposed a 7+ per cent increase our costings suggested per cent was justified. No wonder our industry gets a bad public image!" Costing is taken very seriously by Nortank, and it produces individual vehicle earnings methodically. It stressed to me its commonsense approach to costing. "We had a sump plug fall out of a six months old vehicle, costing us £653. It would be wrong in our view to charge such a rare misfortune to the vehicle concerned. We average out abnormal costs of this kind and apportion them on a fleet basis."

Turnover, in Nortank's view, is the key to successful operations. "Sell your services hard and seek to boost your turnover every year", is its maxim. "Whatever you do, ensure your overheads are fully recovered. If standing charges are based on 260 working days and you get, in practice, 210 working days, you won't recover your overheads fully if you ignore the idle days."

Industrial relations

The Nortank/URTU productivity scheme is buttressed by a comprehensive code of practice which provides opportunities for regulated discussions between workers and management in the interpretation or resolution of any problems arising from the scheme. In the ultimate, if the parties cannot agree locally, and a joint conference of the directors and trade union officers fails to resolve the matter in dispute, the conciliation department of the Ministry of Labour would be brought in by either party to the dispute. No interruption of the company's work of either a general or partial character is permitted until the full procedure for the avoidance and settlement of disputes has been invoked.

Provision is made for the amendment or revision of the agreement at the request of either party and URTU has the sole negotiating rights under the agreement.

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