The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) and Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) have demanded the Federal Government ensure priority access to government-funded rapid testing kits for interstate truck drivers and other road transport workers, raising concerns industry access to rapid testing will be hampered by today’s announcement that supermarket giant Coles will begin selling the tests from next week.
The TWU and ARTIO have been calling on the Federal Government to implement a COVID-Safe National Transport Roadmap with rapid testing at its heart to combat the risk of covid spreading across states and territories as other restrictions are eased.
Global demand for rapid testing is already placing significant pressure on local supply, with the founder of Atomo Diagnostics Dr John Kelly recently saying that there was “a high likelihood of local supply issues because of the fact the rest of the world has significantly increased their internal demand”.
Unless the Federal Government takes action to prioritise access to rapid testing in transport and provide funding for the tests, truck drivers and transport companies may struggle to access the tests they need to continue operating safely as consumer demand grows.
Road transport is Australia’s most mobile industry and interstate truck drivers are at increased risk of virus exposure. In recent months, there have been 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases among interstate truck drivers, with hundreds of close contacts linked to these outbreaks.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said the Federal Government cannot repeat the supply mistakes it made early in the pandemic.
“The sluggish vaccine rollout wreaked havoc on transport workers and companies. Workers dealt with constantly changing restrictions, gruelling testing requirements and inconsistent border rules all because the Federal Government didn’t prioritise transport workers in the vaccine queue and didn’t order enough vaccines”.
“The Federal Government must learn from the vaccine roll out and prioritise critical industries like transport for government-funded rapid testing. These tests are an important weapon in the fight against the virus, and without them, we risk the virus hitching a ride through transport supply chains, putting workers and the industry in danger.
“Unless the Prime Minister adopts a national plan to head off this supply challenge at the pass, future outbreaks and restrictions may again bring transport to its knees”.
ARTIO National Secretary Peter Anderson said the Federal Government must act now.
“Future covid outbreaks have the potential to shut down transport supply chains. Making sure the industry has access to government-funded rapid testing is an important step in learning to live with the virus and keeping critical goods moving nationwide. Rapid testing is an important tool for building a more resilient transport sector and stronger economy”.
Rolling out a government-funded rapid testing regime would greatly reduce virus risk and ease the financial burden that would be borne by interstate truck drivers – particularly owner drivers – and transport companies seeking to roll out the tests in yards and depots.
The TWU and ARTIO wrote to the National Cabinet almost two months ago calling for a COVID-Safe National Transport Roadmap to virus-proof the industry. Key planks of the Roadmap included uniform border, testing and vaccination rules, paid vaccination leave for transport workers, and expanded access to vaccination hubs and rapid testing to end yo-yoing restrictions.
Since the TWU-ARTIO announced its Roadmap, there have been at least 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases among interstate truck drivers, with hundreds of close contacts linked to these outbreaks.
Professor Adrian Esterman, a leading epidemiologist at the University of South Australia, believes that the proposed roadmap put forward by the TWU “is a major step forward, and if implemented, would greatly reduce the risk of interstate transmission of the virus.”