TWU

OWNER DRIVER: Kicked In The Guts

Release date: 2/11/2016

by Tony Sheldon, TWU National Secretary

Roy Ballentyne, an owner-driver from South Australia, is flabbergasted. He just can’t get his head around a report brought out recently by Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell stating that minimum rates for ownerdrivers are a bad thing.

Roy has been driving a truck for over 40 years and during that time has seen little increase in his take-home pay. In fact, he says in recent years things have gone backwards, with costs going up but rates taking a hit.

“I’ve no superannuation, I take no annual holiday, and I average around $3-$3.50 an hour from the 65 hours I work a week when all the costs are taken out,” Roy explains.

During the two weeks in April when the Safe Rates Order was in operation, Roy got a rate increase for the first time in decades. On a run from Adelaide to Moama and to Laverton he got paid $600 extra for the trip. Had the Order stayed in place, Roy figures he could have upgraded his truck.

His wife Sandi says the higher rate would certainly have meant less pressure financially and mentally on their family.

“This is no way to live, especially when your husband is working as hard out on the road as he is,” Sandi says.

Roy just can’t understand how the Ombudsman can conclude these two weeks of higher rates had a “crippling” effect on drivers when the opposite was the effect.

Small transport operator Cameron Dunn is also taken aback by the report. The managing director of FBT Transwest in Victoria said his business did not suffer during the two weeks the Order was in place.

“My business lost no money during the two week Order and we still employ the same number of people,” Cameron says.

“But what is happening is that our competitors are slashing their rates and that will have implications for safety on the roads, with trucks not maintained and drivers under pressure.”

LOW WAGES

Ms Carnell’s report backs industry lobby group NatRoad’s moves to decrease payment for all truck drivers through its opposition to minimum rates for owner-drivers and through its demands for less wages and allowances for employee drivers in the Award system.

Not only is Ms Carnell’s report shameful in its attempt to reduce driver payment, it is also despicable in how it tries to link the scourge of mental illness and suicide among truck drivers to a two-week rates Order.

Suicides, bankruptcies and hardships have been going on for years because of the financial pressure from the top among wealthy clients. Ms Carnell needs to know these problems have not just emerged because drivers were suddenly getting a minimum rate.

The key to what the Safe Rates Order delivered — apart from minimum rates for all work — was accountability on these wealthy supermarkets and manufacturers. Their low cost contracts have the transport industry on its knees. Only by holding clients responsible for rates and safety can real reform be achieved.

Sadly the report offers no real solutions to this crisis.

INDEPENDENCE QUESTIONED

It must be remembered that Ms Carnell, despite heading up an office which is supposed to be independent and representing the interests of small businesses, stood shoulder-toshoulder with the Federal Government in opposing safe minimum rates for drivers. She also lobbied to bring down the entire system which was holding wealthy supermarkets, manufacturers, banks and ports to account for low cost transport contracts.

Her moves to help bring down the tribunal backing Safe Rates along with NatRoad and the Australian Trucking Association saw a ruling thrown out guaranteeing pay to drivers within 30 days of work completed. How can an ombudsman that purports to represent small businesses stand over this?

It should come as no surprise that Ms Carnell made these moves and produced such a report. After all, as former Liberal Party Chief Minister of the ACT, these wealthy clients are among the major donors to her mates in the Liberal Party.

The critical point in all of this is that the Federal Government is failing to tackle the crisis in trucking, and drivers are suffering because of it. Instead of supporting a system of safe rates which brought in much-needed reforms, such as a guarantee for payment for drivers within 30 days of completing work, the Government and its puppets such as Ms Carnell tore the entire system down.

Now they produce a report acknowledging the crisis but try to blame it on a two-week Order which was fixing things.

It is clear that this Government and some employers’ groups are not interested in tackling the crisis and holding those at the top of supply chain to account. It is also clear the Small Business Ombudsman is doing anything but representing the vulnerable elements of the trucking industry. Drivers instead are doing this.

Join their fight today. Go to www.saferates.org.au

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