October 19, 2019

Owner-Driver column: Senate Shakeup

Frank Black, October 2019


A Senate Inquiry could be the shake up this industry needs, if done right.

The announcement of a Senate Inquiry into road transport is a moment in time for our industry. I’ve been a long-time advocate for government intervention to make transport a fairer, safer industry. This is the first step in making the regulatory changes the industry has been crying out for. It implies the Senate’s agreement that we need to look beyond drivers copping the blame and into the industry as a whole. Sustainability will be a crucial focus for the inquiry, and that’s something we all need to survive. If done right, this inquiry should put the wealthy clients at the top on notice that the squeeze on transport must end.

I’d first like to congratulate Senator Glenn Sterle for uniting the industry over our shared belief that things have to change. I attended both of the Senator’s transport industry forums in Canberra this year. The first was in March and the second in July. After 30 years as a truck driver, it was quite monumental to see a room full of people from all corners of trucking, who have been known on several occasions to oppose one another, agreeing to call in unison for a Senate Inquiry. Industry bodies, associations, transport operators and truck drivers agreed that if we want transport to be viable, we need the government to investigate and act in the interests of a safe and sustainable industry.

This was made possible by Senator Sterle’s steadfast integrity to act for the benefit of the whole industry. A former truckie himself, Sterle listened to every concern and every opinion. He united the industry through its shared struggles and fears for what’s to come, reminding us that global giants like Amazon and Uber are making moves on freight and slashing rates in the process.

The first point for consideration by the inquiry is with regard to sustainable standards and conditions for everyone, including enforceable minimum rates of pay. This implies that subbies should be able to earn a decent living without worrying about being undercut by someone else willing to do a job without making a profit. The inquiry will address the myth that the only way to stay in the game is to accept jobs at next to nothing, delay maintenance on trucks or do back-to-back runs.

This, at its heart, speaks to the viability of the industry. There’s only so long an industry can sustain a race to the bottom as severe as that we’re experiencing in transport. Wherever we stand on minimum rates, it cannot be denied that we are living with an industry that encourages trucks to be run into the ground rather than treating maintenance and repairs as crucial to survival.

Cost recovery is an obvious focus of the inquiry that will please owner-drivers and fleet operators alike. Our complaints are consistent regarding the weeks and months we’re expected to wait before we can even chase the pay we’ve already earned. Enforcing monthly payment terms is a quick fix that I’m sure will be recommended to this inquiry time and time again. If nothing else, we should be looking at a fairer cost recovery system in the not-too-distant future, and that is certainly something I’ll celebrate.

It’s impossible to look at both cost recovery and the rates drivers are being forced to accept at the bottom of the supply chain without relating this to the low-cost contracts clients are paying at the top – though many, like Aldi, try to ignore the link. It’s unsurprising then, that the inquiry will also delve into the adequacy of the legislative framework on all stakeholders in transport. If this inquiry is conducted properly it will uncover what us truckies have been saying for years, that regulation is unfairly skewed towards targeting truck drivers for minor breaches which are caused by a squeeze from the top.

While I welcome this investigation, I hope that unlike the flawed chain of responsibility laws, the Senate Inquiry will start at the top with the disproportionate wealth and control. The investigative body must take an unbiased approach that takes simply assesses cause and effect.

I encourage owner-drivers to take part by making a submission to ensure that the difficulties we suffer are at the crux of this inquiry. As the elected representative on the Australian Trucking Association general council that stood on the platform of sustainable rates, I will be speaking on behalf of owner-drivers, but I am only one voice.

If you care about the viability of our industry, make a submission to the inquiry at bit.ly/TransportInquiry.

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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