TWU Talks About Why They're Still Fighting For Safe Rates

Release date: 1/07/2016

Big Rigs, 30 June 2016
Why won't the TWU back down on their fight for safe rates? The RSRT has been abolished but TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said he would continue to fight for the rights of owner drivers and employee drivers.

Q: Is the fight for the RSRT over?
A: "I couldn't look at the eyes of owner-drivers who have been getting ripped off," he said.
"I think of people like Roy down in Adelaide. He hadn't had a wage increase, a rate increase, for 20 years except for the two weeks that the RSRT actually existed.
"I've seen all the hard work that was done by the armoured car drivers, delegates and members and officials from around the country in trying to reach an agreement for holding banks accountable for the improper security arrangements, unsafe practices, and that was literally at the 11th hour being put as a consent order to the commission, or at least the commission making some decisions on the few outstanding matters that were left.
"Now our streets are literally as unsafe as they were before in the armoured car industry and cash in transit, where owner-drivers are carting, in some cases, hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars out of valuables stores where they are getting paid two dollars a parcel.
"And it's not just that it's two dollars a parcel that's a rip off, it's the fact that what they are carrying literally is a criminal's mecca, a criminal's holy grail, without the knowledge, the training or the skills to deal with that sort of risk.
"Of course we do see lots of hold ups that occur as a result of it. The waste industry where they were going to hold councils responsible for the pressure on owner-drivers and employees, just as they were in the armoured car industry for banks holding them responsible.
"And of course the ports and wharves, well you've got wharf rates down in Melbourne where empty containers are being moved, shipped around at $20 a container. A lot of owner-drivers are being sweated in vehicles that are, no-one would be driving out of choice but driving out of a necessity because they just can't get a return.
"And you see the sort of money that people are making out of that exploitation, and it just makes it extremely frustrating to think that it was hijacked by one group thinking about one group's interests without any consideration for everybody else. There's two things. There was the order, the original order, which gave a maximum payment of 30 days to owner-drivers. Now that's gone.
"Fleet owners, under NatRoad, turned around and abolished it. Tolls abolished it. Tolls rated it on an arrangement that they had with their workforce owner-drivers and employees to support safe roads broadly.
"Obviously there have always been arguments with the company about detail, just as there has been between any negotiating group on any matter that happens, whether it be a personal negotiation across the table with your partner on something difficult, let alone in a work situation.
"We are seeing the employees and owner-drivers having safe driving plans. Gone. We have seen the prohibiting of, deducting money from drivers without express authorisation, that's gone. We have seen the right to be paid for all time work loading and unloading and waiting time now gone. We have seen the adverse action taken against drivers raising their hand about safety issues including their pay, is now gone.
"Whistle-blowers now have no rights thanks to NatRoad, and that's why they wanted to get rid of it.
"Regarding the second order, there were consistently amendments that the union had put forward at various times with broad support from industry, and then even the final application that we put, as it subsequently turned out, at the same period that the tribunal was abolished including the order.
"We were trying to get employers paid within 30 days. We had a strong argument that that should happen, because the employer groups like NatRoad and the ATA had no guts to turn around and actually make that application. They didn't want to upset the clients that either they had relationships with or in some cases in cahoots with, because they didn't want to stand up to the clients that had been raping and pillaging this industry.

Q: Do you think that the order should have covered more than just owner-drivers, so small businesses with say 10 trucks, 15 trucks, 20 trucks?
A: "There are some very important things with that question, it's a very good question. The fact is, owner-drivers supported getting paid.
"Owner-drivers support getting paid a fair rate. Employees support getting a fair rate. Employees support owner-drivers making clients accountable. All those things that were in the first order have now been abolished and those five other industries that would have had a better industry have now had their hopes and dreams wiped out - both employees and owner-drivers holding clients accountable.
"Regarding the second order that came out, there is no question about it that largely led by fleet owners and largely in the livestock industry. That is one of the most cutthroat do or die industries where people are quite often running some of the worst gear on some of the worse conditions.
"They work extraordinary hours. If I heard it once, I heard twice, I heard several times, a dozen times, where people were saying, 'we have to worry about the livestock' and all the laws that require the livestock to be properly delivered in a particular state. I'm certainly not anti- animal rights but I think the person behind the wheel should have some rights as well.
"There was difficulties in that order which the union had made a series of applications to rectify including with some support from different industry.
"We did have an agreement with all the bodies, all the key bodies in the tribunal until the federal government turned around and announced that it was going to abolish the tribunal on the Easter weekend.
"It was leaked out on the Friday to one radio announcer by Cash's office, and then of course the rest of it became history. They then broke from a deal that could have got this industry on track and rectified the problems on the second order that need to be rectified.
"And there were problems in the second order that we have, certainly have consistently said need to be rectified and shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Q: What were those problems?
A: "Quite clearly there are issues regarding how back-loading should be dealt with, and split loads. They are the two key issues that jumps to mind.
"But what became clear in cross examining the NatRoad members that were giving evidence that they weren't applying…About a third dropped out of giving when they had to give it under sworn evidence, like tell the truth, and be held to account for what they were saying.
"A third of their people that were giving evidence dropped out. Then, the ones that gave evidence, the vast majority said, it became clear that they had never actually applied the first order paying their owner-drivers within 30 days, making sure that employees and owner-drivers had safe driving plans. That they gave them mandated training for workplace health and safety. These are all things that they quite clearly had not done.
"In cross-examination, the vast majority of them. One company, who stated that they ran over 100 vehicles, owner-drivers, when asked what rate, how do you calculate your rate, they said, 'whatever the market will bear'. Is that what the driver will take? Yes. Is that what the client will give? Yes. Do you calculate what it would be to cover wages? No I don't. Do you calculate what it would be to cover the running of the vehicle? No I don't. That is an unsafe rate.
"That is actually putting, that's what's driving the rate for owner-drivers into the ground and quite literally pushing drivers into the ground. An important part of the application that the union made was also about, and we made this in the original application, with support, and it wasn't easily come by to get a whole series of companies and industry bodies to support the proposition that both employees and owner-drivers in the supply chain should be held to account.
"Now we still maintain, we maintained it when we put the first application in involving the second order and we also consistently put it through the appeals, and that is that companies that employ employees need to be held to account and…sorry, the clients need to be held to account along with, on behalf of owner-drivers.
"As it stands at the moment there are minimum rates for employees. There are lawful requirements for employees. But where the requirement doesn't apply, there is no minimum rate in many parts of the country, for owner-drivers. Except New South Wales. We have some very successful owner-drivers operating under a system that has been going for 30 years with bipartisan political support and acceptance by industry.

Q: A lot of the arguments against it stem from owner-drivers saying that they were going to lose their jobs or somebody had already told them that they were going to lose their jobs. It seemed like, the way the order was worded, if you had more than a few trucks, you could charge a cheaper rate than those owner-drivers. What did you think about that?
A: "Well I think there's a couple of things, and one is that an unsafe rate is an unsafe rate. An illegal rate is an illegal rate.
"Thirdly and most importantly is that, and we put a remedy which we put in before the second order was given, and a remedy up in every one of the appeals about why the issues that our members were raising and the owner-drivers were raising and we were raising on behalf of owner-drivers and employees, and why those amendments should be accepted by the commission.
"Where it went amiss was when NatRoad decided to double cross the industry, because of support from the Minister, and then get rid of every protection for owner-drivers in this country and many for employees.

Q: What was the remedy?
A: "The remedy was this, and that is that already minimum rates are applied to employees and there is a law that applies to employee trucking companies.
"Where the challenge has always been, making sure that the right thing is done whether it be for an owner-driver or an employee is to make sure that the client is accountable and those minimum safe rates are applied.
"Where the mistake was made in the order and we have said this in every appeal we have made was that the order should have covered employees regarding the cost structures within employee fleets and the client should be held accountable for it.
"It should be a safe rate. And what we said in the application, in our application prior to the second order, and our applications to amend the second order, was that companies and retailers should be held to account for costings of running a fleet.
"Now for example, in the case of the oil, fuel and gas industry which was also abolished by the federal government with the support of NatRoad.
"When it became clear with Shane Day. Poor Shane Day, here is a guy put through a grilling process of legal prosecution facing a jail term.
"Yet the people who had made a profit out of it ...were never thrown in jail or threatened to go to jail when they were the ones that actually screwed the rate down.
"Thanks to NatRoad, the federal government has abolished the accountability for what happened to those employees is now abolished and for owner-drivers it is now abolished.

Q:What do you think of crticism about using crashes to push the agenda for safe rates?
"We've got the member for Solomon alleging that TWU members are interferring with trucks to allow them to crash. That's the sort of loopy stuff that has been said by politicians because there's a vote.
"This is not about saying truck drivers don't inheritly want to be safe, they do. And it would be silly to say that truck drivers don't want to be paid a fair rate, cause they do.
"When you've got people saying that the trucking incidents are not all truck drivers' faults they're right, they're a combination of client pressure, fatigue, other vehicle poor performance, but also if you're fatigued if youre other vehicle is a poor performer your response is obviously off. It's not as strong as it otherwise would be.
"The most damning thing, the government's own report said that 28% of truck crashes would be reduced if these orders would be replaced.

Q: What's the next step for the TWU?
A: "This is about having safe rates.
"What I envision is that industry would sit down for the ones that actually want to turn around and have a safe rate in the industry and work out how to more forward with whoever's in government.
"With all the demonstrations we've had since the tribunal was abolished, we've now had over 700 owner drivers and employees that have turned up to campaign and you'll see more activities to make sure we get a safe rate, those armoured car drivers deserve it, those port and wharve drivers deserve it. Those waste workers deserve it, long distance and retail workers deserve it.
"It needs to be one that's done in discussion with industry but it needs to have somebody that's overseeing when the discussion fails."

Q:What do you want people to know about safe rates?
A: "Safe rates process is about how you come up with a solution and where you can't reach agreement that there is somebody who arbitrates it. If you don't agree with that arbitration you have a right to appeal.
"That's what you have in a sane system. It's what you have in a system where all those drivers in the 70s, what started in a battle over road tax ended ended up in a fight over getting minimum rates for owner drivers. That's why the blockaids were on."
"That's why we're taking action now to support owner drivers and employees. If i was to write a decision on the RSO2 it would be vastly different.
"With regards to the employers response, what's clear is I've had senior managers from various sized companies say the threats they got from their clients, because they were supporting safe rates. They said their clients threatended them because they were supporting safe rates.
"The difference with many of those companies is that some of them still stood by what they belived was in the best interest of both their business, the best interest of their drivers, and the best thing for fairness.
"And they didn't necessarily always agree with every outcome as we don't and haven't, and some of those outcomes they did after long discussion with drivers and with our members.
"But the next step is that these lies, that were purpotrated by particularly NatRoad but others within the tribunal needs to be unfurled.
"To have this hysteria from the member from Solomon, not only is it offensive to every truck driver, its offensive to 90,000 union members and tens of thousands of otehrs that rely on union members to get a decent rate.
"This union was started in some states by owner drivers, cart and horse and it was started by employees and owner drivers in other states, we've got a long history of supporting and representing owner drivers and employees.
"We're determined to make sure that we have a safe and sustainable industry, and the clients are held to account and we get fairness and we're gonna continue to fight for it."

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