Lorries to stop cane cartage

Cane lorries wait in line at the Labasa FSC Mill. Picture: FT FILE/LUKE RAWALAI

ABOUT 200 cane lorry operators and growers have made a collective decision not to deliver cane to the Labasa mill from today unless weight restrictions on lorries are lifted.

The mill was scheduled to begin crushing this morning.

The decision was made during a meeting held at the Labasa mill yard at 10am yesterday.

National Farmers Union president Surendra Lal said lorry operators and farmers unanimously agreed they would not cart cane to the mill after a presentation made by Land Transport Authority officers during the meeting.

“We knew about the weight restriction of 16.5 tonnes gross, but none of the lorry operators were aware that any weight above that would attract a fine of $1000 per tonne,” he said.

“The LTA officers who made the presentation said drivers would first be given a warning and any breach after that would attract the fine.

“We will be writing to the Prime Minister’s Office and the LTA CEO – asking them for the restrictions on weight to be put on hold until farmers and lorry operators are made aware of the fines and rules and regulations. No one is going to supply cane until this issue is resolved and we will meet at the Labasa mill yard on June 19 to see whether our concerns will be addressed.”

Mr Lal added that another issue raised during the meeting was the removal of concessions on wheel tax and road user levy they had previously enjoyed.

“Most of the lorry operators only utilise their trucks during the crushing season and they want to know why they are being forced to pay wheel tax and road user for the whole year, if they are not going to use their trucks beyond the cane crushing season.”

Another farmer, Mohammed Idris, said a major issue was the fact that farmers did not have portable scales to weigh their trucks in the field.

“We will be able to meet the height and width requirements but different cane varieties have different weights,” he said. “So we will be penalised for something we can’t measure.”

Sugar Ministry permanent secretary Yogesh Karan said he was not aware of the meeting or the decision made by the lorry operators.

“I am not aware of what transpired in Labasa but what I can say is — they have been given a grace period of two years already,” he said.

“The law is made by another ministry, they have made the laws and regulations based on the current situation with the roads being damaged.

“It needs to be followed, I think they have been allowed more than the allowable limit that has been given to other road users.”

The Fiji Sugar Corporation did not comment on the weight restriction concerns raised by farmers and lorry operators.

The miller said crushing would go ahead today as scheduled.

Questions sent to LTA CEO Samuel Simpson yesterday about the issue remain unanswered.

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