January 20, 2020

Owner-Driver column: Hope in a New Decade

Frank Black, January 2020


Now more than ever is the time to shine a light on the plight of road transport workers’ safety

This year, there will be no shortage of opportunities for truck drivers and operators to get involved in turning things around for the industry. If we pull together and take an active role in driving change, we have the best chance we’ve had in years to make our work easier, safer and financially worth the time and energy it takes to get the job done.

With an ongoing Senate Inquiry and the Transport Workers Union’s (TWU) ambitious plans for taking mass action this year, we’re entering the new decade in a stronger position to take back the control we need to make trucking a fairer and more desirable industry.

And we sure need it. In last month’s Owner//Driver I raised the critical issue of a spike in transport worker deaths compared to the previous year. SafeWork statistics showed 51 transport workers lost their lives between November 2018 and November 2019, 14 more than the year before. Over 330 transport companies had also closed their doors by November 2019. I find this just as alarming.



The truck drivers I meet on the road are never far from financial difficulty.

Often this means delaying maintenance on their trucks or trying to squeeze in extra jobs even if they provide little profit. It is impossible to have this much financial pressure on drivers and not acknowledge the safety implications for both truck drivers and the public sharing the road. The psychological and physical health implications as well as the strain on family life cannot be underestimated either.

We have plenty of ammunition to prove that the trucking industry is in desperate need of reform for its own survival and that of its workers. It’s up to us to get that information out there. If we successfully do that, I look forward to seeing some substantial changes being made.

The key word here is ‘substantial’. It is no use acknowledging the safety implications of a transport industry under pressure if the only outcomes from the government and police are further targets on our backs. We have two major opportunities this year to shift the focus up the chain where it belongs.

Sure, it would be easy to distance ourselves from the work being done in the Senate and by the TWU. But it is not the facilitators of action that will change things for us, and neither should it be, it is those who step forward and take the action.

The Senate Inquiry into trucking has been actively engaging with all levels of the transport industry, meaning that truck drivers will be involved in the investigation not just as statistics of those who’ve been involved in a fatal crash, but as experts on what happens on the roads. It is shocking, given the wealth of knowledge we have as truck drivers, that we are so rarely asked to share our concerns about the industry – unless it’s to defend ourselves when something goes wrong. I’ve said it before, but we must make sure our voices are heard. We need to drown out the wealthy clients and associations who will be going after their own vested interests. Let’s keep up the pressure to make sure the outcomes of this inquiry benefit those of us doing it hard every day to keep the industry moving.



The other big ticket for this year is the TWU’s plan to cause chaos in the industry by taking mass industrial action. This is pure and simple a campaign to rally the troops to fight for our own interests. There’ll be strikes and protests happening across companies and sectors throughout the year – all of which will draw attention to the systemic problems in the industry.

This is another huge opportunity to shine a light on the pressures from above. It will only work if transport workers show a united front. Even if agreements or company fights don’t directly affect us as owner drivers, we will undoubtedly benefit from workers putting pressure on wealthy clients to listen to workers and put more money into transport. To reap the highest rewards, it is vital that we join the action in any way we can, through protests, sharing our story and supporting strikes. This year can play out in two ways: if we all get involved, we can change the future; if we don’t get involved, we’ll continue in a downward spiral. I know which way I want things to go.


Frank Black has been a long distance owner-driver for more than 30 years. He is the current owner-driver representative on the ATA council.


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