Race to the Bottom

Release date: 1/09/2016

Owner Driver, by TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon, September 2016
NatRoad is seeking to bend the general carriers contract rules in NSW by exempting its members, who in turn will exploit drivers they employ. Tony Sheldon writes.

Trucking is served by an army of dedicated, hard-working drivers who spend large parts of their lives away from their families. They pride themselves on skill in their jobs and they deserve to be treated fairly and with respect. But some transport employers are hell-bent on doing the opposite. They are intent on stripping back the pay and conditions of drivers and winding back decades of rules that have protected them.
These unscrupulous employers, whose main focus is to rip drivers off, are represented by the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) and its sidekick, the Australian Trucking Association.
They are attacking rules in place for over 30 years, which give owner drivers in parts of NSW minimum rates for all their work and allow them to join their mates in collectively bargaining for better conditions. These rules are set down under the NSW General Carriers Contract Determination. Drivers were successful this year in winning an extension to these rules to cover all of NSW.
Out of the blue NatRoad demanded in an application to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission in July that its members should be exempt from these rules. The rules have made the jobs of thousands of NSW owner drivers sustainable since 1982 and now NatRoad is trying to give their members a route to exploit them.
Owner driver Ray Childs knows the danger this NatRoad move presents. “These rules give us the protections we need to make our jobs viable and we have been able to negotiate on our sites even better rates as owner drivers than those set down under the rules. Our jobs and our livelihoods are at stake with this move by NatRoad,” he said.
NatRoad has also been openly lying about the rules in the general carriers contract. While the rules specifically exempt the transportation of livestock, bread, milk, cream and primary produce, the association is on the record saying these items would be included. The TWU has never sought to include these goods in the general carriers contract. This was bare-faced NatRoad lies designed to whip up fear about these rules which have brought nothing but sustainability to a vulnerable part of the transport industry.
For over two years all major industry bodies were invited to attend the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to discuss changes to the general carriers rules. NatRoad did not participate in this process. Instead it is choosing to play a game of opposition and attack – which will drag the industry down.
But NatRoad has not just focused its attacks on owner drivers. At a recent hearing in Sydney as part of the four-year award review, the association along with other industry lobby groups demanded that part-time work be introduced for long-distance employee truck drivers. You may well ask how long-distance drivers could be employed on a part-time basis. The idea is simple: to pay them less.
But that’s not all NatRoad and their mates have in store for employee drivers they are also demanding:
·      Changes to when paid meal break allowances kick in for truck drivers who work beyond their normal shift hours.
·      Changes so that employers would not pay superannuation for rostered days off
·      Changes to the definition of loading and unloading to limit what they have to pay for when truck drivers are on the job.
·      Reduce the agreed distance and time it takes to travel between cities – to pay truck drivers less.
The transport industry needs champions. It needs people who are willing to push aside politics and ideology and aim for what is best for the industry: accountability among wealthy clients at the top. It does not need groups like NatRoad, which see that the only way to serve its members is by exploiting drivers.
This strategy will push experienced drivers out of the industry and will discourage young drivers from entering it. It will ultimately cost lives on the roads as the race to the bottom gets more desperate and drivers are forced to take more risks.

Remembering Manning
Brian Manning was a champion – for workers of all types and the human race in general.
The activist put his Bedford truck to great use when he brought supplies to aboriginal stockmen who walked off their cattle station at Wave Hill 50 years in protest over equal pay. 
He later described the first time he drove the 16-hour journey from Darwin to the strikers.
“I could actually sense their relief in the realisation that they were no longer on their own… and the promise of support was now a reality,” said Manning, who passed away in 2013.
It was with pride that the Transport Workers’ Union helped keep Brian Manning’s legacy alive by assisting his son, also Brian, in getting a replica Bedford truck to the anniversary commemorations at Kalkarindji in August.
Manning showed what can be achieved by standing up – he was just one man with his truck, but his passion and determination kick-started a move towards righting a terrible wrong. The original Bedford truck is to go on display at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

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