Drivers rally in South Australia for Safe Rates with the TWU last month.
With a string of fatal crashes lately, TWU boss Tony Sheldon is urging truckies to stand up and fight for their lives.
"What’s clear from the National Transport Commission report, various coroners reports and academic reports, and all of us in the industry and for those that aren’t numbed by it, is that it’s clear that something has to be done."
"And the economic pressures is one of the key issues to deal with. It’s part of the jigsaw, a critical part of it.
"We have 330 deaths a year, 15 times the national average and the industry seems to be numb to the fact that its deadly and dangerous and fails to stand up to clients.
"I understand why they don’t because of economic concerns, but I cannot forgive them for not standing up."
Mr Sheldon said safe rates were one way to stop the carnage and he didn’t agree the current order for owner drivers would see them worse off.
He said current NSW contract determinations that were similar to the order, covered tens of thousands of owner drivers in NSW.
"We know from all the evidence over many, many years from academics, from industry intelligence, from reports from studies, coroners reports and the like, that this industry being 15 times the national average of deaths is an industry we have to fight for.
"But if you don’t want to fight, if you don’t want to hold the players to account then please don’t become a statistic."
Mr Sheldon said the TWU would be holding clients to account under the new order.
"We’ll hold transport companies to account if they take action against drivers that pursue safe rates.
"And we’ll hold them to account, but we’ll take action against their clients, directly and indirectly.
"If an owner driver and his work mates want to stand together, then we’ll stand together beside them.
"We’ve done this under the contract determinations in NSW, which have been here for 30 years.
"We do that in sites that we have agreements around the county and where companies opt for cheap underpaid alternatives and poorly maintained vehicles that we stand with the rest of the workforce to take those companies on and this particular case we’re gonna make sure we take on their clients.
"If somebody is trying to replace them (owner drivers) with a repeat of the Sydney airport tunnel workforce they’ll do that with or without an order, the difference is that now is they have a safe rate, rather than an unsafe rate, and we should stand together to make sure that the company operates and the clients engage people on safe rates.
"That includes employees getting their correct entitlements.”
Mr Sheldon said the International Labour organisation in October last year backed a plan based on the Australian safe rates model to tackle unfair and unsafe remuneration as the root cause of high level death toll in trucking.
The Aussie system was recognised as best practice.
Who is covered?
Mr Sheldon confirmed it was only the one truck operator or family trucking business where the trucks were primarily driven by the family that was covered under the order.
"We were aware the rate was going to be similar to…the application was looking at rates for owner drivers similar to what we have in NSW contract determinations with the one big difference that clients will be held to account for that rate.
"And we have tens of thousands of owner drivers in this state and many thousands that are under agreements that are even superior to that rate."
Though there was slight variations in some of the rates, the order was nearly the same, he said.
Mr Sheldon said the industrial agreements covering owner drivers in NSW now had 30 years of bipartisan political support.
"I personally negotiated three changes to improvements with owner driver delegate leaders and members under conservative governments in this state in the last 20 years."
However, the TWU would still “make applications to pursue as well as take direct action against clients that engage companies that are not paying appropriate wages, workers comp, maintain their vehicles correctly, we can still hold the clients to account and we will”.
"One of the things that is critical, that we made in the application to the commission, is that the auditing of the supply chain to retailers and for long distance work, they should include all transport workers and we’re gonna make another application…to have the order extended regarding auditing rights to employees as well."
Mr Sheldon said that action did not "preclude" the TWU from taking action or companies for being held to account for illegal and improper practices.
"An example of that in our view is the derelict duty by Scotts in engaging a failed contractor, when it came to the Sydney Airport tunnel fiasco."
"We’ve already taken Scotts to court and we’ve got further actions following discussions with them that we’re reporting back to the commission."
Mr Sheldon said the TWU took Scotts to court over responsibility issues surrounding their supply chain and engaging a contractor that was operating illegally on a visa as well as reports regarding wages the contractors were receiving.
"There is an obligation on Scotts to properly audit the companies and in this case, they obviously failed".
The TWU is also demanding information across their supply chain from the client above them to the contractor below them, and also raised the need for a "training education and industrial rights fund" which "all clients should be obliged to pay into", "to do proper auditing across the industry".
Work not done yet
Mr Sheldon said he would demand the FWO take action against freight loaders that allowed people to bid for the lowest rates.
“It’s also a very important thing for the RSRT to deal with the auditing process, because that will then capture those websites to make them liable for underpayments along with the client.
Mr Sheldon said the TWU would make an application for all parties in the supply chain to be paid within 30 days, even if employer associations didn’t.
The current RSO for owner drivers allows 30 days payment terms.
Mr Sheldon said the TWU had been calling on this for the whole supply chain well before it was raised in parliament.
"If those employer associations won’t get off their backside to make the application then the TWU will on behalf of the companies".
He said that was in the interests of all truck drivers to make the industry sustainable.
This week the TWU are heading to Canberra with a number of drivers and others affected by the RSRT including the, waste industry, cash in transit (banks fighting us tooth and nail) waterfront and ports and oil fuel and gas.
Mr Sheldon said the TWU made an application to have the oil fuel and gas sector covered after the horror Mona Vale crash, which he said was made even more salient in light of the acquittal of driver Shane Day.
"Neither Shell or Coles have been in the dock yet for the contracting practices of squeezing the supply chain in those deaths. What I put as a direct relationship to those deaths,” he said.
He cited some shocking statistics that came from a Safe Work Australia report last year showing a higher than average industry trend of breaking safety rules to meet deadlines.
"You add that cocktail to 15 times the national average of deaths, that’s real people being slaughtered. For someone to make a bigger profit at the end of the chain. We deserve not be numb any more to this in this industry – stand up and fight."
The TWU are also looking at the way wages are written in contracts, they want it broken down to include wages, fuel, super, workers comp, insurance and more in a bid to further hold clients accountable for awarding contracts.
“So we will know what’s not being paid,” he said.
Mr Sheldon said what was clear with the Cootes Mona Vale contract is that the companies “loss time injures” was nearly seven times worse than the next contract rival, and trailers were up to 20 years older.
He said that raised serious questions about the capacity to appropriately to carry out that contract.
“And the rest is history, hundreds of trucks grounded, truckie screwed by the system with his life on display for the state and country to see, only to rightly be found not guilty by a jury but to have the same people that profited from it not facing a jail term. (It) sickens me to my stomach.
"It’s the clients at top of the supply chain that drive those economics and drive those practices, the rest of the people are casualties, but unfortunately those casualties are real people whilst they’re reaping profits."