March 6, 2017

Truck Drivers Reveal Chronic Underpayment At Fair Work Commission

Drivers will also reveal how they work 13 hours a day but because employers flip them onto a different award during their shift, they don’t get overtime for any local work.


The testimony about chronic underpayment is part of the Transport Workers’ Union application for changes to the transport awards.


“NatRoad and other employer groups must be held accountable for this disgraceful robbing of drivers’ incomes. These drivers work hard and they must be paid fairly for all their work. Not paying employee drivers undercuts other parts of our industry, including owner drivers. This pushing down of pay and rates must stop,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.


Driver Max Bird, giving evidence, said not being paid overtime is a big problem for drivers. “I have driven long distance and then do local work. Because of this I have been flipped onto a different award. My working day can be up to 13 hours but I do not get any overtime for the local work. We have families to feed and that’s just not fair,” he said.


“I have been asked by a previous employer not to put down all the time I have spent loading and unloading. I have also been asked to do jobs which would push me over the permissible driving hours. This is not right and it’s not safe,” Mr Bird added.


The TWU is asking the Fair Work Commission to:


–          Ensure employers give drivers a copy of their safe driving plan, so that drivers can work to a realistic schedule that takes into account rest breaks and time spent loading and unloading.


–          End the practice where employers can flip drivers onto different transport awards from long-distance to local work to avoid paying overtime


–          Ensure drivers who relocate trucks are included on the transport awards – and not forced onto minimum wages as currently happens


–          Refuse NatRoad and AI Group demands to curb meal allowances for drivers


–          Refuse NatRoad and AI Group demands to stop paying drivers more wages when they perform higher duties


“The Federal Government is standing idly by while this attack on truck drivers’ wages and allowances is taking place. Last April they removed the only independent body which had the power to investigate this and ensure that low pay rates were not risking safety. Now drivers are under even more pressure to speed, drive long hours and skip mandatory rest breaks. Because of this we have seen an increase in deaths from truck crashes. The Government’s actions have been both shameful and deadly,” Sheldon added.


The end of last year saw a 6.2% jump in deaths from rigid vehicles crashes and a 1.6% jump in deaths from crashes involving articulated vehicles, according to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics. According to Safe Work Australia one in three workers killed last year was a transport worker.


In the 10 years to 2014, 2,500 people died in truck crashes.




1.    Safe Rates

In April the Federal Government abolished a system backing safe rates that was holding wealthy clients such as retailers, banks, oil companies and ports to account for low cost contracts, which do not allow their goods to be delivered safely. This was despite the Government’s own reports showing a link between road safety and the pay rates of drivers and that the safe rates system would reduce truck crashes by 28%*. An Order delivering safe rates for the first time was in operation for just two weeks before the entire system was torn down.


2. Evidence of pressure

A Safe Work Australia report in July 2015 showed


·      31% of employers say workers ignore safety rules to get the job done

·      20% accept dangerous behaviour, compared to less than 2% in other industries. 

·      20% of transport industry employers break safety rules to meet deadlines – this compares with just 6% of employers in other industries.


3. Low pay

Many owner drivers are not making enough to get by as it is with average income of just under $29,500 and $29% of them underpaid (this is based on an analysis by PriceWaterhouseCoopers of the 2006 census which was included in the regulatory impact statement for the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011). 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.


4. Bankruptcies

According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, transport operators have one of the highest rates of insolvencies of any industry and small firms of five full time employees or less are the most likely to go bankrupt. In the financial year to June 2015 there were 275 insolvencies among these small operators. In the financial year before that there were 548 insolvencies. The main reason for the insolvencies was inadequate cash flow.


5. Suicide

Suicide is currently rampant among truck drivers. A study by Deakin University showed 323 truck drivers committed suicide between 2001 and 2010. (Suicide among male road and rail drivers in Australia: a retrospective mortality study). 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. 


* PricewaterhouseCoopers “Review of the Road Safety Remuneration System Final Report January 2016” (PWC Review 2016 – published by the Commonwealth Department of Employment on 1 April, 2016)

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