Trans­port Work­ers Union v. North­line

Australian Transport News - - Operations + Strategy -

While il­le­git­i­mate or in­com­pe­tent visa hold­ers have gained truck- driver li­cences, the is­sue of com­pa­nies at­tempt­ing to ll a re­cruit­ment hole with over­seas staff be­came a talk­ing point.

And so, ev­i­dence be­fore the Se­nate com­mit­tee shed light on the Trans­port Work­ers Union’s ( TWU’s) cam­paign against trans­port and lo­gis­tics rm North­line.

With for­mer TWU mem­ber Sen­a­tor Glenn Sterle in the chair, TWU na­tional sec­re­tary Tony Sheldon had a re­cep­tive ear to ex­plain his con­cerns to.

Sheldon cast North­line as an em­bod­i­ment of a “race to the bot­tom — one that is en­tirely le­gal and one that suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments are fa­cil­i­tat­ing”. He claims such com­pa­nies are “gam­ing the sys­tem” to drive down costs.

At is­sue was North­line’s seek­ing of a labour agree­ment to bring in 60 over­seas fork­lift driv­ers on 457 visas.

“For us, this brought up two big is­sues,” Sheldon says in claims the com­pany later re­jected.

“The rst is­sue was: what ex­actly was the skill short­age North­line were fac­ing? A quick check re­vealed the com­pany had not tried very hard to re­cruit fork­lift driv­ers lo­cally.

“In fact, we could only nd one job ad­vert, which was re­ceived by let­ter, where they posted a po­si­tion as a ca­sual va­cancy. The other is­sue was re­gard­ing the skills they are seek­ing. Train­ing to be­come a fork­lift driver just takes two days. North­line’s let­ter to us ex­plained that the com­pany ex­pected to ac­tu­ally train the over­seas driv­ers once they were in Aus­tralia.”

Sheldon also brought up the is­sue of the level of over­sight of such agree­ments, say­ing there was no ef­fec­tive scru­tiny.

“With the an­nounce­ment this year of an $800,000 cut to the Fair Work Om­buds­man’s bud­get, I doubt there will be any scru­tiny of these is­sues in North­line in the fu­ture,” he said.

“Of course, I also note that, even at the peak, un­der the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, there were only 13 in­spec­tors that were al­lo­cated to visa hold­ers.”

North­line CEO Craige Whit­ton hit back with a re­but­tal doc­u­ment, say­ing fork­lift op­er­a­tors that have come to Aus­tralia as part of Tem­po­rary Work (Skilled) Sub­class 457 visa pro­gram “are skilled fork­lift op­er­a­tors who are al­ready trained in how to load un­pal­letised gen­eral freight, which is our core busi­ness”.

These em­ploy­ees are “skills as­sessed” be­fore any of­fer of em­ploy­ment is made.

“The em­ploy­ees are re­quired to at­tend a recog­nised train­ing fa­cil­ity in Aus­tralia for the sole pur­pose of gain­ing an Aus­tralian fork­lift li­cence,” Whit­ton states.

“The skills re­quired to load un­pal­letised gen­eral freight is rarely achieved by at­tend­ing a two-day fork­lift train­ing course.”

He notes that, as part of mon­i­tor­ing re­quire­ments of the Sub­class 457 visa pro­gram, the Depart­ment of Im­mi­gra­tion and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion (DIBP) had un­der­taken a re­view of North­line’s com­pli­ance with the terms of the pro­gramme, in­clud­ing a re­view of the wages be­ing paid.

“The DIBP wrote to North­line on 20 March 2017 ad­vis­ing that North­line has com­plied with its obli­ga­tions,” he says.

On broader TWU crit­i­cism, Whit­ton of­fered a stout de­fence.

“North­line agrees and ac­knowl­edges that the Trans­port Work­ers Union of Aus­tralia, New South Wales (NSW) Branch ( TWU) ap­proached our NSW de­pot on one oc­ca­sion in July 2015 re­quest­ing that we en­ter in to an En­ter­prise Agree­ment with ‘our driv­ers’,” he writes.

“We ex­plained to the TWU rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the time that none of our NSW driv­ers are em­ploy­ees of North­line but are sub­con­trac­tors, many of whom are owner-driv­ers.

“Mr Sheldon as­serts that North­line “had not tried very hard to re­cruit fork­lift driv­ers lo­cally”. His as­ser­tion appears to be based on a re­view of North­line job ad­verts for fork­lift op­er­a­tors dur­ing Jan­uary 2017.

“Due to sea­sonal fac­tors, the month of Jan­uary is our qui­etest op­er­a­tional month, and a time when our need to re­cruit fork­lift op­er­a­tors is low or non-ex­is­tent.”

“Peo­ple are get­ting li­cences, but they don’t end up un­der­stand­ing the broader safety con­text they have to work in”


A lit­tle ear­lier, the in­quiry heard from Aus­tralian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (ATA) chief of staff Bill McKin­ley, who noted ac­cep­tance of his or­gan­i­sa­tion’s calls to gov­ern­ments to: • Re­view all as­pects of truck driver train­ing and

assess­ment • The ef­fec­tive­ness of the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Driver Com­pe­tency Frame­work and the other state truck driver train­ing schemes • The ca­pa­bil­i­ties, com­pe­ten­cies and qual­i­fi­ca­tions re­quired of both truck driv­ers and driver train­ers. McKin­ley says Aus­troads had en­gaged a con­sul­tant to do that re­view, due to be com­pleted by Novem­ber.

Of the Se­nate in­quiry’s ev­i­dence, the ATA had been par­tic­u­larly con­cerned at the lack of co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the RMS and ASQA, which over­sees reg­is­tered train­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions (RTOs).

McKin­ley em­pha­sised what the ATA sees as the out­comes of a sys­tem that has many holes, say­ing “we have sit­u­a­tions where, es­sen­tially, peo­ple want­ing a heavy-ve­hi­cle li­cence are promised it in a day, or promised that if they don’t pass on the first at­tempt they’ll be able to con­tinue try­ing un­til they get it.

“We have sit­u­a­tions where peo­ple are get­ting li­cences, but they don’t end up un­der­stand­ing the broader safety con­text they have to work in.

“They don’t have an un­der­stand­ing of load re­straint or fa­tigue or chain of re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“So we end up with badly un­der­trained driv­ers emerg­ing with truck-driver li­cences, but they do not have the skills they need to work in the in­dus­try safely.

“There are some great train­ers out there – I al­ready men­tioned DECA as one of them – but many oth­ers train to a price, or of­fer guar­an­tees, and the qual­ity can’t be guar­an­teed.”

The ATA wants heavy ve­hi­cle li­cens­ing in South Aus­tralia and the eastern states into the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor (NHVR) once the heavy ve­hi­cle regis­tra­tion scheme for the Heavy Ve­hi­cle Na­tional Law states is rolled out.


Still, it is not as if ASQA gives driver-train­ing RTOs a to­tally free ride. So far this year it has can­celled the regis­tra­tions of Sem­p­com Pe­tro­leum Trans­port Train­ing Pty Ltd (RTO num­ber 21928) and Echo­breeze Pty Ltd (RTO num­ber 31742) trad­ing as AETECH Driver Trainer Heavy Ve­hi­cles.

This was “nor­mal reg­u­la­tory ac­tiv­ity and not specif­i­cally re­lated to the in­quiry”, an ASQA spokesper­son tells ATN.

More gen­er­ally, de­spite con­cerns in some quar­ters of the in­dus­try, the or­gan­i­sa­tion is con­fi­dent short­falls are few and far be­tween.

Last year, the com­mit­tee’s in­terim re­port’s Rec­om­men­da­tion 15 asked ASQA to “con­duct an audit of all heavy ve­hi­cle driver train­ing fa­cil­i­ties (reg­is­tered train­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions) in Aus­tralia”.

“As part of the Aus­tralian Skills Qual­ity Au­thor­ity’s (ASQA) risk-based ap­proach to reg­u­la­tion, reg­u­lar scans are con­ducted across the vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing (VET) sec­tor, al­low­ing for con­sis­tent or emerg­ing is­sues of a sys­temic na­ture to be iden­ti­fied and ad­dressed ap­pro­pri­ately. None of these scans have, to date, iden­ti­fied any sys­temic or wide­spread con­cerns re­lat­ing to heavy ve­hi­clere­lated train­ing,” the ASQA spokesper­son says of the is­sue.

“How­ever, given the con­cerns ex­pressed by the Se­nate Ru­ral and Re­gional Af­fairs and Trans­port Ref­er­ences Com­mit­tee, ASQA has con­ducted a spe­cific anal­y­sis of avail­able in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to heavy ve­hi­cle-re­lated train­ing. That scan did not iden­tify any con­cern­ing trends or in­di­ca­tors of risk.

“ASQA ac­knowl­edges the im­por­tance of the road trans­port in­dus­try to Aus­tralia’s econ­omy and the ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity of en­sur­ing the op­er­a­tors of heavy ve­hi­cles, par­tic­u­larly multi-com­bi­na­tion ve­hi­cles, pos­sess the re­quired skills and knowl­edge to be able to carry out their jobs safely.

“ASQA will con­tinue to en­gage with the rel­e­vant reg­u­la­tors and in­dus­try bod­ies to as­sist in iden­ti­fy­ing providers of interest. It will also con­tinue to re­mind the train­ing providers it reg­u­lates – and which are reg­is­tered to de­liver this train­ing – of their reg­u­la­tory obli­ga­tions.”

Craige Whit­ton

Tony Sheldon

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