TWU Response To Gottliebsen

Release date: 31/03/2016

The Australian, by TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon, 31 March
There is an ultimate irony in the arguments of those opposing the first Order on safe rates by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Every doomsday scenario put forward as a reason for the Order not to go ahead is sadly already happening.

Take bankruptcies. The argument goes 35,000 will go out of business overnight. No evidence has been forward to back this up. Yet here is a real statistic: transport operators have one of the highest rates of insolvencies of any industry and small firms of five full time employees or less are the most likely of these to go bankrupt.
In the financial year to June 2015, there were 275 insolvencies among these small operators. In the financial year before that there were 548 insolvencies, with many still being hit with the effects of the GFC. The biggest reason for the insolvencies was inadequate cash flow. A problem with businesses going to the wall? We certainly already have one, so surely we need to urgently do something about it?
Or what about the notion that owner drivers will be undercut?
Last month an incident showed exactly how badly operators and owner drivers are already being undercut. Two truck drivers on temporary visas held traffic up at Sydney¹s M5 airport tunnel for several hours. They had taken a wrong turn and found themselves heading for a tunnel whose height they would not meet. The drivers were unable to reverse the truck or unhitch their trailer. They were untrained, illegally driving and, most probably, exploited. We filed a dispute notice against the company whose truck they were driving, Scott’s Transport. This is still ongoing with our focus on what is going on in Scott’s supply chain that is leading to untrained drivers being employed to drive their trucks?
Another catastrophe being reported to hit the industry when the Order comes in is an increase in suicides. This is sadly already a grave problem among truck drivers with an analysis by the Victorian coroner’s court last year showing drivers had the highest number of suicides between 2008 and 2014. During that period 53 truck drivers took their lives. Maybe it is time to address the fundamental problems of our industry?
We certainly believe so. For decades this industry has limped along with owner drivers expected to work effectively for free for large parts of their day. They are forced to work on low margins and drive their trucks and themselves into the ground. A PwC analysis on the 2006 census on the regulatory impact of the Road Safety Remuneration Bill shows 29 per cent of owner drivers are underpaid. The analysis shows their average income is just over $29,000.
The solution is to correct the imbalance and to force those at the top of the transport supply chain to pay their way. Major retailers and manufacturers continually drive down transport costs — the impact can be seen at the bottom in the devastation of truck crashes. This month alone 25 people have been killed in truck crashes. Technology can detect driver behaviour alerting them to fatigue while driving. But what difference will that technology make if the owner driver still has to take on so many jobs just to pay his bills, maintain his truck and support his family?
Technology can detect symptoms of a problem but cannot tackle the root causes. Which is where the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal comes in. It has the power to hold these major companies at the top to account for what happens in their supply chain. Last December after two years of consultation and hearings it made its first Order setting safe minimum rates for owner drivers in retail and long-distance.
The real catastrophe is how owner drivers and transport operators have been left in limbo by the peak body which is supposed to represent them: the National Road Transport Association. During two years of hearings and consultation it refused to engage in finding a solution to the crisis in trucking, as outlined above. It failed to inform its members of the impending changes or seek their input. Even when the Tribunal handed down a draft Order last August there was no response from NatRoad. When the final Order was delivered in December it mounted a campaign to oppose it instead of rowing in behind the ruling and pressing major clients at the top to deliver fair transport contracts to operators. But this is not NatRoad’s only failing to its members. It is opposing our move for transparency in client contracts so a full cost breakdown can be seen. It is also refusing to support our application to force clients to pay transport operators within 30 days - currently operators wait up to four months or more for payment. This issue is related directly to the high number of bankruptcies and it also contributes to the high death toll in truck crashes because of the implications for maintenance of fleets.
The Order on safe rates is needed. There is no conspiracy theory, no stitch-up about it. It is about fairness and safety in transport. Let those opposing it stand up and admit they believe major clients at the top should be allowed to hand out low cost contracts which mean owner drivers and transport operators must subsist on tiny margins. Let them state profits trump people’s lives. But let’s not pretend there is no crisis already happening in the transport industry. Because there most certainly is.
Tony Sheldon is the National Secretary of the TWU

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