The call comes as the Government announced it was seeking “reform options” to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal after publishing two reviews on its work. The Government move comes as the Tribunal is about to make a decision on whether to delay a first Order setting minimum safe rates for owner drivers in retail and long-distance.
“The Government has made clear all along they wanted to get rid of this Tribunal and has tailored these reviews to give it the answer it sought. This is about ensuring their rich mates in the big retailers and manufacturers don’t have to pay their way for the carnage that happens on our roads. It is a sad day for the trucking industry,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.
In March 25 people were killed across Australia in truck crashes, including the parents of three children and a 24-year-old mother who died while her three young children were in the car with her. Academic studies and coroners’ reports have shown the link between road safety and the pressure drivers are put under because of poor financial return. This pressure includes speeding, driving long hours, skipping mandatory rest breaks and forgoing maintenance on their trucks.
Suzanne de Beer, whose husband Albert was killed when a fatigued driver crashed into him as he helped another man change a wheel, said she was disappointed by the Government’s announcement. “We know drivers are forced to work these crazy hours not because they want to but because the big companies at the top are cutting their transport costs. Why is the Government trying to abolish the one body which can stop this deadly cycle? Why are they forcing other families to go through what mine have gone through?” she asked.
Ray Childs, an owner driver in NSW, said the Government announcement is particularly disappointing given the Tribunal’s imminent decision on the first Order on safe rates. “In NSW we actually have rates which are higher than this Order but what is important is that this will make the minimum safe rates national and that the major clients at the top will be held responsible for the rates. It is a crying shame that the Government won’t just let the Tribunal do its work and make trucking safer and fairer,” he said.
Statistics show the crisis in trucking. Reports from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission show transport companies are consistently in the top five industries for insolvency, with the vast majority of them small firms with five or less full-time employees. Mental health and suicide among truck drivers is a major problem with 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.
Many owner drivers desperately need the Order setting minimum rates with an analysis by PwC of the 2006 census showing an average income of just under $29,500 and $29% of them underpaid.
Dr Michael Rawlings, senior lecturer in the faculty of Law at University of Technology, Sydney, said the Tribunal was an important instrument in addressing truck driver pay and safety. “A number of Government reports have expressed the view that we need this kind of regulation in the transport industry because of the high death toll of truck drivers and other road users,” he said.