Release date: 25/08/2009

The Transport Workers Union has attacked the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) over its submission to the National Transport Commission calling on drivers to be screened for depression as part of medical checks for driving licences.

TWU national secretary, Tony Sheldon, said the ATA chairman, Trevor Martin’s comments were once again looking at the symptoms of a problem rather than the causes, and would only encourage people suffering from depression and anxiety to keep it to themselves.

“Mr Martin’s comments are a disgrace and will go a long way towards pushing public attitudes towards depression and anxiety back into the dark ages,” Mr Sheldon said.

“The ATA has once again ignored the reasons why drivers might become depressed – including client pressures, unpaid waiting times, long hours and unsafe payments– and instead put the problem squarely back onto the driver.

“With mortgage payments and the cost of keeping a truck on the road, drivers will be forced to not discuss their problems under threat of losing their livelihoods,” Mr Sheldon said.

Mr Sheldon also called on the ATA to read a 2008 report by The University of Queensland, Rotary Health, the TWU, the NTC and the NSW Road Transport Association looking at health in the NSW transport industry.

The Health Survey of the NSW Transport Industry report said that the number of hours worked was directly related to increased stress levels, and that anxiety, depression, high psychological stress all contributed to a driver’s performance.

“The survey found that 65 per cent of drivers were spending more than 60 hours a week at work, and 6.5 per cent were spending more than 100 hours per week at work. The drivers are forced to do these hours to make ends meet,” Mr Sheldon said.

“Mr Martin has urged companies to develop health and support programs for drivers because he knows there is nothing in place to support them. But even if employers do this, it still leaves owner drivers having to suffer in silence.

“Rather than just taking drivers off the road, we need an industry-wide approach to health problems on our roads. Currently in the United States, Roadside Clinical Health + Labs are setting up a chain of 80 clinics on popular trucking routes to service the industry. That is achievable in Australia.

“But if we really want to improve the mental health and wellbeing of truck drivers, we need to get widespread support for a system of safe rates in our industry, where drivers can receive full cost recovery, including waiting times, maintenance costs and fluctuating fuel prices,” Mr Sheldon said.

Media Contact: Seth Tenkate 0408 463 199.

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