For generations Australians have made road transport our business. But that business is changing, it’s getting harder for small operators and owner drivers to survive – and for not a small number of people, foreign drivers are perceived to be part of the problem.
The issue of foreign workers in trucking is a controversial one. The point I want to make is simple: it’s not foreign drivers that are the problem; they’re a symptom of something much bigger. Aussie drivers are finding it tough because the pressure on our industry is to do more for less, and do it quicker.
Dodgy bosses will always seek to exploit people and legal loopholes. I’m not saying we forget about these individuals and their companies, but if we really want to fix things and reduce this pressure on our industry, we must also look past them to the cause of the problem.
The truth of the matter is the pressure in our industry comes from the client – they’re the ones whose products we’re moving around the country and they’re the ones demanding it’s done cheaper and quicker.
And who will work for lower conditions and rates than a person from another country who doesn’t understand the law here, that doesn’t understand the rights Australian workers have fought to win and who has the threat of deportation looming over them if they don’t do as they’re told?
This how we end up with situations like that on Sydney’s M5 earlier this year – where two foreign drivers took a wrong turn and got caught at the entrance to a tunnel with their truck which too high.
It’s a disgrace than a so-called ‘training organisation’ had certified these drivers without knowing how to reverse let alone unhitch the trailer. The incident was so concerning that it’s now under investigation from a Senate committee. So far it’s been uncovered that the training organisation involved has certified at least 111 drivers without proper testing protocols. It’s also been revealed that the student visa scheme, which allows international students to work a maximum of 20 hours per week, is being misused to employ people in the transport industry.
Wherever workers have fought for better conditions, big business clients are seeking to undermine them. Take IKEA for example. It’s under fire for using cheap labour from Eastern Europe to transport their products throughout Western European countries. Not only does this mean that better paid Western European jobs have been cut, but it also sees drivers from poor countries like Romania and Bulgaria spending up to 9 months away from their families, often living out of the trucks and being paid rock bottom rates. IKEA of course has a well-rehearsed response – conveniently none of these drivers are direct IKEA employees so they say their hands are clean.
If you’re wondering if this sounds familiar, then you’re right. This is the same line Australian clients like Coles have rolled out ever since our Safe Rates campaign called for big retailers to be held accountable for safety and fairness throughout the entire supply chain.
Any reasonable person can step back and look at the IKEA or Coles supply chain and see that they hold the ultimate power over the money and conditions available to transport workers carting their goods. If Coles wants to cut costs by 5% (which they admit is a target) then that’s 5% less money available to companies and drivers transporting Coles’ products.
By holding Coles responsible for ensuring that every transport operator and driver delivering their products has safe rates and conditions we can stop Coles’ irresponsible cost cutting and discourage the use of dodgy bosses who rip off drivers or exploit foreign workers.
Not all retailers are as blind to their power over transport conditions as Coles. It took a lot of time but Woolworths is finally cooperating with drivers and the Transport Workers Union in NSW and SA Distribution Centres. Together we’ve created Driver Committees where regular drivers from over 20 companies are working together to improve DC conditions.
David Beeching from Adelaide says his drivers committee has made a real difference to driver facilities and conditions, “by coming together we cut waiting time in Adelaide by an average of 60%. It’s encouraging to see that when we work together things get better.”
There are also those outside the industry interested in making trucking fairer. Macquarie University in collaboration with TEACHO are doing research into how effective truck drivers think regulation is on health and safety at work. This type of research is important for informing decision makers about what works and what doesn’t work in our industry. Make sure you have you’re say at: http://bit.ly/macunisurvey
There’s no easy fix to making our industry better, fairer and safer. What’s important to remember is that we’re stronger together. The more we stay divided, the easier we’re making it for clients to continue cutting the price of contracts and making it harder for the true blue Aussie driver. So let’s work together and like David and his fellow drivers in SA make some real change that will really improve our industry!