Calls At Senate Inquiry For Retailers To Be Held To Account Over Road Deaths

Release date: 2/07/2015

MEDIA RELEASE, 2 July 2015
The Transport Workers’ Union today at a Senate inquiry has called for major businesses which use transport companies to be held to account over the carnage on the roads involving truck crashes.

The union detailed how low-cost contracts given out by billion-dollar retailers end up squeezing transport operators and forcing drivers to skip breaks, drive for longer and faster with over loaded vehicles in a stressed and tired state.
“For too long truck drivers and transport operators have carried the can for what is going wrong in our industry. Drivers are killed in truck crashes, they are jailed when crashes occur and they are blamed when taking risks to meet the economic demands of companies like Coles ,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.
“The reality is no driver wants to take these risks but the top of the supply chain is making it happen by squeezing everyone below them. Until we address this the carnage will continue,” he added.
The Senate inquiry heard from:

  • One driver who worked in a transport company where loads are not strapped down, drivers are not allowed to take breaks and trucks are allowed on the roads with lights not working and tyres worn.
  • A small transport operator whose contracts are driven down so low he has had to sell newer truck models for older ones to keep his business going.
The TWU also highlighted the attacks by the federal government on the road safety watchdog for trucking which has signaled it wants to scrap it. The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal aims to holding to account those at the top of supply chain accountable for what goes on down the line.

  • Trucking is Australia’s deadliest profession with drivers 15 times more likely to die than any other profession, according to Safe Work Australia. Each year 330 people die in truck related crashes.
  • The retail industry is responsible for up to 40% of freight movement in Australia, with Coles and Woolworths dominating almost 80% of that share. Coles has refused to engage with the TWU on safety issues and is opposed to the road safety watchdog for trucking.
  • A recent audit of three transport operators at the Coles Distribution Centre at Eastern Creek in NSW found 126 breaches of National Heavy Vehicle Regulations. These included drivers forced to mark loading and unloading time as rest time and drivers denied their rest time during more than 11 hours driving.
Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal:

  • The RSRT has the power to inquire into issues and practices in the road transport industry, including holding major clients like Coles to account for how their business practices affect safety throughout the supply chain.
  • It began operating in July 2012.
  • The RSRT is able to make orders on:
    • Minimum remuneration for employee drivers and owner-drivers,
    • Industry practices for loading and unloading vehicles, waiting times, working hours, load limits, payment methods and payment periods, and
    • Ways of reducing or removing remuneration-related incentives, pressures and practices that contribute to unsafe work practices.
  • So far it has begun inquiries into five sectors: retail and long distance; oil, fuel and gas; cash-in-transit; waste; and port and wharf sector.
  • It has made an important order requiring truck drivers to be paid within 30 days
TWU survey of truck drivers found:

  • 46% of drivers in the Coles supply chain feel pressure to skip breaks
  • 28% feel pressured to speed 
  • 26% feel pressured to carry overweight loads

The National Transport Commission’s report on Remuneration and Safety in the Australian Heavy Vehicle Industry (2008) saidpractices by the retail industry affecting road transport “can play a direct and significant role in causing hazardous practices”. It adds: “There is solid survey evidence linking payment levels and systems to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use”.

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