— industry experts offer their opinions*
SANDI BALLANTYNE knows that a new year should bring optimism, but this year she’s finding it hard. Her husband Roy has been an owner-driver for more than 40 years and, while rates for Roy have rarely gone up, now the feeling among drivers is that they are actually slipping back.
“We’re pinned to our collar as it is,” she says. “There are no holidays, no superannuation … everything is a struggle.
The attack on truck drivers comes in many different guises. It starts at the top of the transport supply chain when wealthy supermarkets and manufacturers cut transport costs knowing their goods cannot be delivered safely on what they are paying. It comes from governments that refuse to regulate this imbalance, despite the fact that it results in horrific deaths on the roads each year.
The attacks also stem from the organisations and associations which are supposed to represent transport operators.
But instead of going after the big end of town among these supermarkets and manufacturers to ensure their members are given a fair go, these associations go after the drivers, skimming their wages, conditions and rights.
The current election process taking place at the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) should be seen as just another attack on drivers.
The ATA, along with NatRoad, will no doubt try to get a stooge elected onto the ATA general council as the owner- driver representative. This would be a disaster for drivers.
The ATA in the last few years has begun to display a worrying anti-truck driver attitude.
The association, it must be remembered, was set up in the wake of the horrific Grafton crash between a semi-trailer and a bus in 1989 which killed 21 people.
The aim was, according to the ATA’s website, “to improve the trucking industry’s safety, professionalism and viability”. But the ATA has turned its back on its founding principles and no longer represents the entire industry or promotes economic safety.
Instead it has become the mouthpiece for specific elements within the industry, namely NatRoad, which don’t mind seeing safety compromised in a bid to make a buck.
Both NatRoad and the ATA deny there is any crisis regarding deaths in trucking, despite each year Safe Work Australia data showing transport workers generally and truck drivers specifically have the highest workplace death of any other job.
In 2016, 63 transport workers died. The next highest industry was agriculture at 40 deaths. In the first 18 days of the new year, 15 people were killed in truck crashes.
NatRoad and the ATA’s denial of this crisis is nothing short of despicable. Both organisations are actively campaigning against a real solution to this crisis – they oppose holding wealthy supermarkets and manufacturers to account for the financial pressure on transport, which leads to truck drivers being forced to drive long hours, speed, skip rest breaks and overload their vehicles.
They have fought against a system that delivered minimum rates and 30-day guaranteed payment time for owner- drivers.
This system protected drivers raising safety concerns at work and also demanded transparency in supply chains, so that the financial squeeze by wealthy supermarkets and manufacturers could be seen.
NatRoad is currently fighting for a decrease in wages and conditions for drivers in a review of the transport awards. But drivers are willing to stand up and fight these attacks.
Frank Black, an owner- driver for more than 30 years, says drivers and their families should be optimistic because this year will be about challenging the attacks.
“Unless we’ve got decent rates and a proper voice, we’ve got nothing. That’s why I’ll never give up this fight,” he says.
Ray Childs, a Sydney ownerdriver agrees: “This is about being sustainable; it’s about keeping your business going, supporting your family and staying safe on the roads. We’re ready to fight those who try to say they represent us but work against us.”
The Transport Workers Union is supporting these drivers and their families in their fight.
We would encourage all ownerdrivers to support this campaign, regardless of which side of the fence they sat on during recent fraught debates.
Because if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s the need for real change in our industry.
WITH TWU NATIONAL SECRETARY TONY SHELDON