TWU

Truckies Need A Fair Go Or More Lives Will Be Lost

Release date: 18/04/2016

SMH, by Tony Sheldon, 18 April 2016
 
This is what happens when a truck driver isn't  paid a decent rate to cover the costs of running his truck or his labour. He speeds, drives longer than he is permitted to, skips mandatory rest breaks, forgoes maintenance on his truck. He might even take drugs to keep himself awake to drive those extra hours.


Transport workers hold a protest rally to highlight the lethal squeeze from supermarket giant Coles on truck drivers. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Irresponsible? Yes, but this is the reality for too many drivers who can't make enough money to pay their overheads and support their families. The consequences of this are deadly. A Victorian court in 2013 heard how a driver spent more than 50 hours of the previous 78 hours driving his truck before crashing into a car killing a man. A South Australia coroner's report from last year said a truck driver who killed a man standing at a bus shelter had had a "tiring if not gruelling work schedule".
 
This March alone has seen 25 people killed in truck crashes across Australia, including the parents of three children, an 88-year-old man and a 24-year-old mother, whose three young children were in the car when she died and were also injured. Seven truck drivers were also killed. We could all continue to tut-tut this appalling tragedy and wring our hands saying there is simply nothing we can do. But there is something that can be done.
 
There is a reason truck drivers are put under so much pressure that they are willing to risk their lives and those of others: the major client companies whose goods they deliver are continually pushing down transport costs in a low-margin industry. This may look good at an annual general meeting when management present the increase in profits to shareholders but on the roads it is devastating. Take major retailer Coles for example: this year it reported almost $1 billion in profit – up 5.6 per cent on last year. But Coles has admitted each year it aims to cut transport costs by 5 per cent. This cost has to impact somewhere and right now it is impacting on our communities.
 
The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, set up in 2012, seeks to address this imbalance. It has the power to hold major companies to account for what happens in their transport supply chains by saying their contracts must ensure safe minimum rates for those driving their goods. After two years of hearings and evidence an order was delivered by the tribunal last December setting safe minimum rates for owner-drivers working in retail and long-distance. The TWU is seeking orders across the transport industry to cover all drivers in: waste; ports and wharves; oil fuel and gas; and the delivery of cash.
 
The opposition to the tribunal from the Federal Government is cynical but not surprising. The Liberal National Party's major financial donors are among these major companies which will ultimately be held to account for minimum safe rates.
 
Evidence that the government is playing politics on this issue of public safety is clear since its own reports released earlier this month show safety in road transport has the "highest fatality rates of any industry in Australia" with 12 times the average for all industries. They also show that rulings from this tribunal will reduce truck crashes by 28 per cent.
 
While Malcolm Turnbull was happy to stand at the weekend with people who have been scared into believing that getting a minimum safe rate is a bad thing, and further that fear, here's something he failed to mention: There is already a deep crisis in the industry.
 
Many owner-drivers are not making enough to get by as it is with average income of just under $29,500 and 29 per cent of them underpaid (this is based on an analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers of the 2006 census which was included in the regulatory impact statement for the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011). Transport companies are consistently in the top five industries for insolvency, with the vast majority of them small firms with five or less full-time employees.
 
And here's something Mr Turnbull probably also won't admit to: suicide is currently rampant among truck drivers with an analysis by the Victorian Coroner's Court showing truck drivers had the highest number of suicides out of any other profession, with 53 drivers taking their own lives between 2008 to 2014.
 
This tribunal will help change the transport industry for the better – by ensuring transport operators and owner-drivers are not squeezed by low-cost deadly contracts, putting them out of business and placing lives at risk. Those with a real interest in the viability of the transport industry and safety on our roads should back it.
 
Tony Sheldon is TWU national secretary.
 

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