In a letter to the Alberta premier, industry groups outline six concerns about the training program
Recently, representatives of 13 Alberta farm organizations signed a letter to Premier Jason Kenney regarding their concerns about the Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) for new Class 1 and 2 commercial drivers.
Representatives of Alberta Canola Producers Commission, Alberta Pulse Growers, Alberta Pork, Potato Growers of Alberta, Alberta Sugar Beet Growers, Alberta Oat Growers Commission, Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association, Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, Alberta Chicken Producers, Alberta Hatching Egg Producers and Alberta Milk signed the letter.
The letter outlines six changes for the government to consider to ensure drivers, including farmers, can meet the qualifications for MELT.
“We want to get to that shared safety outcome at the end of the day, but just we need some flexibility to make sure that the implementation of it is not a barrier,” said Karla Bergstrom.
She is the manager of government and industry affairs with Alberta Canola.
Industry representatives asked the government to postpone the MELT deadlines because of the disruption from the pandemic, said Bergstrom.
“When the pandemic hit, there were still a number of those extension drivers who were working through the process of either getting their Class 1 or applying to challenge the Class 1 through the MELT knowledge test or the MELT road test. When everything was shut down, it further delayed that process,” she told Farms.com.
Industry representatives asked government officials to move the deadline to apply for an extension to comply with the MELT program to Dec. 31, 2020. The reps also asked for a new deadline of Sept. 1, 2021 to pass the MELT knowledge and road test.
Ag reps requested that the government treat agriculture extension drivers who completed their pre-MELT Class 1 license before the pandemic the same as transition drivers.
“Is there a way for the government to look at those drivers who have clean driving records and treat them the same as those transition drivers who got their Class 1 just before the MELT training program became a requirement?” asked Bergstrom.
In the letter, the industry representatives also raised financial concerns.
“One of the biggest factors was the financial hardship to put the drivers through MELT because they had the $10,000 cap on the tuition. When the training and testing offered is not necessarily always within proximity of the rural communities of some of these drivers, then you have an added expense of putting them up to go and get the training and testing,” said Bergstrom.
To help with this cost, industry representatives asked the government to recognize Class 1 commercial truck drivers as a skilled occupation, thus allowing drivers to access Alberta Student Aid.
“When you look at programs like this, the onus needs to be on the drivers. It's no different than a hairdresser. They pay their tuition fees, they go through their training and then they go work in a salon. The salon is not paying for those hairdressers to go through their training programs,” said Bergstrom.
Next, the industry reps asked the government to expand the Canada-Alberta Job Grant (CAJG) criteria.
“Because (the CAJG is) only eligible to corporate farms and because it's only eligible to non-family farm members, it really limits which farms can apply for that funding,” explained Bergstrom.
The industry reps also shared some options to help reduce the overall cost of the program, such as reducing the minimum instructional hours to align with Canada’s National Safety Code.
“Why is Alberta at 113 hours where the national standard is at 103.5 hours? Is there a way we can reduce the required number of hours?” asked Bergstrom.
Finally, the industry reps asked government officials to increase the number of testing locations throughout Alberta.
“This is just making sure that farmers and farm employees looking to get their Class 1 have equal access opportunities so they don't have to pay exorbitant amounts out of pocket to go and take a two- or three-week training program that's not in their location,” said Bergstrom.
While Alberta Government staff haven’t officially responded to the letter yet, Bergstrom was working staff to find solutions even before the industry reps sent their letter.
Farmers and the industry group reps believe drivers should have training to keep the roads safe, but industry reps would like the government to work with them to make this outcome possible, Bergstrom said.
“There was a limited opportunity to revisit this issue with the government because of the pandemic and that's really why we're bringing this to light now. Hopefully, we can work with the government to try and reduce some of these costs for farmers and increase safety overall,” said Bergstrom.
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