The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was created in 2012 after a 2008 report by the National Transport Commission found a link between pay and safety outcomes for truck drivers.
Truck driver Paul Harris says working for a multinational company left him without the stress imposed on some independent drivers. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
An emotional campaign against the tribunal warning mandatory minimum pay rates would kill off businesses saw the body axed this year. Many of its powers were shifted to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and the government committed to never introducing minimum rates on contractor drivers.
Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said there was now no incentive for big businesses to end low-cost contracts and emphasised the link between pay and safety.
"My condolences go out to the family and friends left devastated by these recent tragedies, which have yet to be fully investigated," he said.
"The tribunal was doing what no other body is tasked to do: holding wealthy retailers and manufacturers to account for safety in their supply chains."
But federal Transport Minister Darren Chester accused the TWU of misrepresenting crash statistics in pursuit of their agenda.
Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics figures show the 109 fatal truck crashes between April and November represented a 7 per cent reduction compared with the same period last year.
"While every death and serious injury is a tragedy, it's important to note the improvement in heavy vehicle safety in recent years," Mr Chester said.
"It's also important to note that in the vast majority of crashes involving heavy vehicles it is not the truck driver who is at fault."
Passing through Canberra on Friday – his final day of work after leaving home Sunday evening – Wagga truck driver Paul Harris said working for a multinational company left him without the stress imposed on some independent drivers.
Still, Mr Harris travels an average of 980 kilometres per day, logging 14 hours at work.
"My biggest thing is it does get awfully lonely here at times, you do miss home," he said.
Mr Harris has worked in the industry for 15 years and said things had changed for the better in that time: "With the union and all of that pushing for safer rates, changes in the logbook laws, the crackdown on speeding, it's really changed."
The Trans-Help Foundation provides support to transport workers and their families. Chief executive Dianne Carroll, whose father and first husband died in truck crashes, estimated the organisation assisted an average of six drivers each day.
Ms Carroll and board member Bill Dodds said safety would be improved when truck drivers were given the flexibility to take their breaks when they needed them. The pair also called for every truck death to be investigated as a workplace death rather than a road accident.
"The truck is our workplace," Mr Dodds said.