National

Peak moving season slowed by driver crunch as labor violations dwindle

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

In the run-up to moving season, the national shortage of truck drivers has become acute, forcing transport companies to ask customers who are switching homes to delay their moving dates until after the spring break.

Since the beginning of the year, the Japan Trucking Association has been requesting that companies and government agencies avoid making employees relocate during the period around April 1, when many of them conduct personnel reshuffles.

Shiro Ishizue, the association’s spokesman, said it is becoming increasingly difficult to make reservations with moving companies, noting that the peak has expanded from the traditional last two weeks of March, to a six-week period that now spans the whole of March and ends in mid-April.

Kazuyo Shimada, an official with Sakai Moving Service Co., said it is encouraging clients to put off their moves until after mid-April. The major mover said reservations in March more than double compared with an average month.

Peak season is reportedly becoming longer because drivers are quitting the moving business to join major delivery companies, which are taking steps to improve their notoriously tough working conditions.

However, Ishizue said that is only a part of the reason.

He said he views the labor shortage as a positive sign the government is getting the trucking industry to finally abide by the law and take labor issues more seriously.

The transport ministry sets maximum per-day and per-month working hours for truck drivers, but since its rules were mostly overlooked by movers and parcel delivery companies, the ministry introduced a new regulation in July that puts pressure on the trucking industry to abide.

Ishizue said moving companies that previously made drivers work an entire week without time off during peak season must now adhere to the limits on working hours set by the transport ministry.

“As a result, even the companies that manage to maintain a sufficient number of truck drivers are facing manpower shortages because the number of hours each driver can work has dropped by one-third,” he said.

The changes are being reflected in moving prices.

Nippon Express Co. raised the price for moving the contents of a single person by ¥5,000 for the period between March 22 and April 5, up from last year’s peak season hike of ¥2,000.

“Considering the changes in drivers’ working conditions in the moving industry and the need to provide stable services to customers, we felt it was necessary to set a higher price this year,” company spokesman Ko Sato said.

Sakai Moving Co.’s Shimada said securing drivers will become even more challenging in the future.

Ishizue said he hopes the number of younger drivers will climb in the near future now that the minimum age for obtaining a truck driver’s license has dropped to 18 from 20.