TWU

Long, dangerous road to fair go for truckies - Anthony Albanese MP

Release date: 20/02/2012

Facts are stubborn but statistics are more pliable, said the master of the great one-liner Mark Twain. That's why, when it comes to truck accidents, the figures might help but they don't really tell the story.  

Anthony Albanese MP, The Daily Telegraph

They do tell us truck driving is the most dangerous industry in Australia by a factor of 10. They also tell us the cost of these deaths to the country is about $2 billion per year. And in the 12 months to June last year, there were at least 210 fatal crashes involving trucks.

But if you really want to get a feeling for the pressures facing Australia's truck drivers, it helps to hear it from the driver's own mouth.

Driver Andrew told the NSW Industrial Commission: "When I was required to perform excessive hours I would sometimes experience hallucinations. I would see trees turning into machinery.

"On one occasion I held up the highway in Grafton while waiting for a truck not there to do a three point turn (I was radioed by drivers behind me asking why I had stopped)."

 

Or hear this from Robert, who has driven the Pacific Highway for 22 years: "I have been sacked for refusing to perform a load on a B-double, which would have made the load illegal and oversize.

"I had asked the same client for two weeks off to have my steer tyres replaced. They said 'no' but then I had the drivers' side steer tyre blow out at 100km/h when I was fully loaded. It is sheer luck no one was killed."

There have been countless parliamentary inquiries over more than a decade which have all come to the same conclusion: The nation's truck drivers deserve "safe rates".

This means a fair wage that would remove the incentive for drivers to resort to unsafe practices. About 30 per cent of owner-drivers are paid below the award rate. Many say low earnings force compromises on repairs and maintenance.

As Australians queue at the checkout, most wouldn't give a thought to the vast fleet of workers who bring products to our supermarket aisles. Visitors marvel at the quality and variety of produce that lands each day on our shop shelves.

Truck drivers drive long distances through the night to make this happen.

The trucking industry is highly competitive and there is ample evidence to show that under-cutting is commonplace and that drivers sometimes speed and resort to drugs to meet deadlines.

Reports also show some drivers "fiddle" the log books. Says one: "I was doing a run from Darwin to Toowoomba. They told me to load (unpaid) six hours before the log book would allow. I was told that was the deal, take it or leave it.

"I had to take it."

The federal government believes every worker has the right to a safe place of work. In the case of truck drivers, it is not only their lives at stake - all of us share the same roads. The statistics here do tell a powerful story.

While heavy trucks account for 2.5 per cent of all vehicle registrations and 7.5 per cent of vehicle kilometres travelled, they are involved in 15 per cent of all fatal crashes. The official record-keeper, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, says speed, drugs, alcohol and fatigue are often to blame.

Last week, a house of representatives committee met to examine a bill that I tabled in the parliament last November which will bring safety and fairness to the daily lives of the nation's truck drivers. The committee includes representatives from all parties and will report back by the end of the month.

It is my hope the parliament will support this piece of commonsense, fair and long-overdue legislation.

If the law is passed, a road safety remuneration tribunal will be established with powers to intervene and set conditions ensuring safe driving practices.

It will begin work on July 1, 2012, and will include members from Fair Work Australia along with independent work, health and safety experts.

One of the first things for the tribunal to address will be waiting times.

And here is a final statistic.

It is not uncommon for drivers to wait up to 10 hours to load and unload their truck.

This waiting time is not paid and it can't be classed as an official rest break, further forcing them to speed and drive tired to make up time.

I don't think any Australian would think this was fair.

Or safe.

Click here to read the story on The Daily Telegraph website

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