TWU Response To Robert Gottliebsen

Release date: 26/09/2016

TWU, 26 September 2016

Kate Carnell’s report on the impact of an Order on minimum rates for truck drivers vindicates nothing apart from the sad reality that there are some who refuse to acknowledge there is a problem in the transport industry.

Truck drivers protest about low rates

The supposedly independent Small Business Ombudsman, blames specific suicides, bankruptcies and other hardship on the rates Order - despite the fact that the Order was in place for just two weeks.

It should not take a journalist or any other discerning reader five minutes, let alone 50 years, to spot what is at play here: a stitch-up.

Ms Carnell, a former Liberal Party Chief Minister of ACT, had already made up her mind about what would be in the report before her inquiry even got going. She spoke about its “devastation” several times on radio before her inquiry began its work. She set up inquiry sessions around the country in the days leading up to the Federal Election to shore up support for her Liberal Party colleagues.

Apart from the obvious bias, Ms Carnell’s report simply lacks credibility. It admits “only a relatively small number of truck drivers participated in the inquiry” while just 34 written submission were received. One of those submissions was from Steven Melichar who gave an exact costing of how the Order benefitted him. In the submission he adds: “I felt more relaxed and refreshed than I ever had knowing that I would not have to push myself to complete the load as quickly as possible”. Despite the few written submissions it received, Steven’s views never made it into the report.
The report also admits it’s findings on the “crippling” effect of the Order are not based on actual findings. “It may be difficult to gather factual evidence to show the extent that financial difficulties are attributable to the Payments Order,” it states.

Truck drivers protest about low rates

The report chooses to ignore decades of scientific research which links the pay rates of drivers to road safety. It even ignores a Federal Government review released in April which showed the payments Order
would lead to a 28% reduction in the number of heavy vehicle crashes*.

This report set out to provide a seal of approval for Malcolm Turnbull’s work in tearing down a tribunal which was tackling the struggle owner drivers face in Australia. But the seal it provides is weak since it lacks any scientific basis and is politically slanted. If it hadn’t involved the use of taxpayers’ money, it might be amusing.

Truck drivers protest about low rates

Here is the reality of life for truck drivers. There is a crisis in trucking and it is marked by suicides, bankruptcies, low pay, high workplace deaths and injuries and the employment of untrained and exploited migrant workers. But these problems did not emerge because of a two-week Order on minimum rates. Instead most of these problems have plagued our industry for decades and the remuneration tribunal was tackling them, root and branch. Most importantly it was doing this not by going after the transport companies in the middle. It was holding the retailers, manufacturers, ports and banks at the top to account for their low cost transport contracts which are the source of the low pay, stress, fatigue and pressure experienced by drivers at the bottom. This did not suit the agenda of Malcolm Turnbull or his friends in the media. But it would have made the lives of Australia’s trucking community a whole lot better.

For those who enjoy statements based in fact, see below.
Evidence of pressure

A Safe Work Australia report in July 2015 showed
·      31% of transport employers say workers ignore safety rules to get the job done
·      20% of transport employers accept dangerous behaviour, compared to less than 2% in other industries.
·      20% of transport industry employers break safety rules to meet deadlines – this compares with just 6% of employers in other industries.

According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, 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 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. The main reason for the insolvencies was inadequate cash flow.

A study by Deakin University showed 323 truck drivers committed suicide between 2001 and 2010. (Suicide among male road and rail drivers in Australia: a retrospective mortality study). 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. 
* PricewaterhouseCoopers “Review of the Road Safety Remuneration System Final Report January 2016” (PWC Review 2016 – published by the Commonwealth Department of Employment on 1 April, 2016)


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