Blatant Agendas

Release date: 16/06/2016

Owner Driver, by TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon, 1 June 2016
Despite certain road transport associations claiming to exist for the betterment of the industry, their motives are clearly to keep rates at dangerously low levels, Tony Sheldon writes.

Who really represents truck drivers? The debate on safe rates has seen various groups purporting to represent the trucking community.
Drivers must be aware of who lies behind these groups, what interests they represent, and what their opinions are on vital issues that ultimately affect drivers.
The Australian Trucking Association's (ATA) own website shows it was founded in the wake of the horrific Grafton crash between a semi-trailer and a bus in 1989, which killed 21 people. The driver of the truck, who was also killed, had taken amphetamines to stay awake.
Yet despite the ATA's history being linked to the need to find a solution to the pressures drivers are under, its leadership has opposed the right for drivers to be paid a safe minimum rate and for wealthy clients at the top of the supply chain to be held accountable for those rates. It disputes that the rates transport operators and drivers are paid influence their behaviour and cause pressure that results in truck crashes, despite the academic evidence showing this.
The ATA has tried to demonstrate there is no need for safe minimum rates by comparing fatal truck crash rates from 1982 - a time when cars and trucks weren't fitted with modern safety features. The ATA is supposed to represent the entire trucking industry - not just the big business employers.
On its general council it has Frank Black, the owner-driver representative, and a Transport Workers Union (TWU) representative, representing drivers and the logistics industry. Yet the ATA leadership took the unilateral decision to oppose the safe rates system without consulting these voting councillors who are the only true representatives of truck drivers.
The ATA has said on numerous occasions it does not involve itself in the industrial relations process, and yet campaigned to abolish safe rates for drivers.
I have written about the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) before and what their true intentions are towards truck drivers: to decrease rates across the industry.
NatRoad ran a scare campaign against safe rates because the transport companies they represent do not want to pay owner-drivers any more. At the same time they are demanding decreases to wages and allowances for employee drivers in the current review of the award system.
NatRoad represents transport operators - not owner-drivers.
But even in this they fail their task: the safe rates system would hold wealthy clients to account for low cost contracts, which not only keeps drivers on oppressively low margins, but transport companies as well.
The Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman is a newly created office headed up by Kate Carnell, a former Liberal Party chief minister for ACT, who took office in March. The Ombudsman's first major focus has been to campaign against safe rates, rowing in with the Federal Government despite the fact that the office is supposed to be independent.
Figures showing hundreds of bankruptcies among small transport operators every year from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission indicate the struggle owner-drivers have endured.
Yet the Ombudsman has chosen to launch an inquiry into the impact of drivers being paid a safe minimum rate for just two weeks. An initial meeting of stakeholders on the issue showed much representation for transport companies but few for owner-drivers.
Kate Carnell, shortly after taking office, said she would seek to ensure small businesses got paid within 30 days of completing work. Despite this, she sought the abolition of the safe rates system - and with it an Order compelling transport operators to pay owner-drivers within 30 days.
Finally, the motivations of the Independent Contractors of Australia (ICA) must also be exposed. Its executive director is Ken Phillips, who admitted to a Senate inquiry that the group had less than 200 members and was not able to confirm how many were owner-drivers.
Mr Phillips is also a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, an organisation that wants the minimum wage abolished and advocates for the privatisation of many public services.
The TWU has previously successfully prosecuted Australian National Couriers for underpayment of truck drivers.
The director of this company is James Taylor, a founding committee member of the Independent Contractors of Australia.
The ICA's motivations must be seen in the context of the campaign by others, who simply don't agree that there is a crisis in trucking and don't want the lives of owner-drivers to be improved.
Truck drivers have the highest workplace deaths of any profession, suffer from chronic fatigue, stress, mental health problems, and are among the jobs with the highest suicides and bankruptcies. They are not being served by parties pretending to advocate on their behalf when they clearly do not.
The TWU proudly represents over 20,000 owner-drivers and will continue to campaign for safe rates to make the industry safer and more sustainable.

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