COL­UMNS

— in­dus­try ex­perts of­fer their opin­ions*

Owner Driver - - News - TONY SHEL­DON is the na­tional sec­re­tary of the Trans­port Work­ers Union of Aus­tralia. Con­tact Tony at: NSW Trans­port Work­ers Union, Trans­port House, 388-390 Sus­sex Street, Syd­ney, NSW, 2000. E-mail: twu@twu.com.au.

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.

SAFETY COM­PRO­MISED

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.

FIGHT­ING BACK

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

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