An Extreme Race to the Bottom

Release date: 17/03/2016

Owner Driver, by TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon, 17 March 2016
There is a pride in the professionalism of drivers who carry the heavy loads over vast distances around our country. The skill requires training and experience and without these components things can go horribly wrong. We saw this starkly recently in Sydney this year when a driver on a temporary visa was unable to reverse his over-height truck, owned by Scott’s Transport of Mt Gambier, out of the M5 airport tunnel after trying to enter it in error. The incident held up traffic at the busy route for several hours before police and Road and Maritime Service personnel came and dealt with the situation.

But as well as affecting the travelling public, the incident also reflects badly on our transport industry.
It shows that exploited and illegally hired workers who are untrained and unskilled are driving heavy vehicles on our roads. This demonstrates an extreme aspect of the race to the bottom in transport and shows the pressure being applied from clients at the top through low cost contracts. Truck driving is not among the list of professions foreign workers can obtain 457 visas for and the Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton insists only 10 drivers are on 457 visa through specific exemptions. Yet people on temporary visas are being hired to drive trucks on our roads. So far the Government has failed to provide an adequate explanation as to why this is happening or what can be done to close loopholes in the visa system and licensing rules.
Our union filed a dispute application at the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal over the Scott’s incident. Our objective was clear: to find out what is going on in Scott’s supply chain that prompts illegal and most probably underpaid drivers to be hired. At the time of writing we are in negotiations with Scott’s after an initial hearing. They have said the driver at the M5 tunnel wasn’t employed by them directly and that their system checks that drivers are competent professionals before they leave their depot. They have said the driver who left the depot on the day the M5 incident happened was not the driver who caused the chaos.
But this clearly reflects much deeper problems. There is a need for transparency and auditing in transport to ensure trained professionals are driving trucks and not illegal and exploited workers who can’t even perform basic functions. We have called for some time for a national fund which would tackle this issue.
We need accountability among clients at the top of our transport supply chain to end the race to the bottom in the push for profits. The employment of untrained and illegally employed drivers might mean huge profits for the big retailers and manufacturers at the top which continually cut transport costs but it is devastating for our industry and the wider community.
The solution is an industry-wide system of safe rates, where all drivers are properly remunerated and all truck-owners, be they single truck operators, small fleet owners or larger transport firms, should have the costs recovered for running their vehicles. The key point of this system is that accountability is forced on those at the top by auditing their supply chains.
A first Order from the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal setting safe minimum rates for drivers has started the ball rolling, covering owner drivers in retail and long-distance.
We are filing applications to the Tribunal which centre on the determination of drivers to have a fair and safe rate in the industry. This includes:
  • a demand for auditing of transport operators to hold clients to account over payment of the correct rates and allowances for employee drivers and to ensure illegal, exploited and untrained drivers are not employed in the supply chain
  • a demand that transport contracts be scrutinised to ensure they allow for all costs to be covered in carrying out deliveries, including maintenance of trucks, fuel, drivers’ wages, third party insurance, workers’ compensation and other minimum legal requirements.
  • a demand for major retailers to pay transport operators within 30 days of work completed.
  • appropriate arrangements on payments for split loads and backloads.
Separately we are fighting for safe and fair rates across the industry and have application for Orders in cash-in-transit; oil-fuel & gas; waste; and ports and wharves.
Drivers who have worked for many years want to see this happen so that professionalism can be maintained and safety never compromised. Charles McKay, a cash-in-transit employee, says there was a need for accountability among clients such as banks and retailers so that drivers and the public are not put at risk. “This is about safety, fairness and people’s lives. Profits just can’t trump that,” he said.
It is now time for the transport industry to throw off its diminishing reputation as a result of client cowboys which reap billions of dollars in profit from drivers’ sweated labour. It is time we stood together and demanded better.

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