— in­dus­try ex­perts of­fer their opin­ions*

A large trans­port com­pany is seek­ing to im­port for­eign work­ers while Aus­tralia’s un­em­ploy­ment rate con­tin­ues to rise.

Owner Driver - - Owner/Driver - Tony Shel­don writes

SOME EM­PLOY­ERS and their as­so­ci­a­tions will stop at noth­ing in the drive to lower wages and rates across the in­dus­try. They are gam­ing the sys­tem and ul­ti­mately their moves don’t just af­fect the take-home pay of driv­ers, they also af­fect safety and even shut out lo­cals from jobs.

Trans­port op­er­a­tor North­line re­cently ap­plied to the Depart­ment of Im­mi­gra­tion for a labour agree­ment to im­port fork­lift driv­ers. This is the third such labour agree­ment the com­pany has sought.

Driv­ers can’t be brought in from overseas on skilled mi­gra­tion visas such as the 457 visa sys­tem. So in­stead em­ploy­ers have to ap­ply for labour agree­ments as North­line has done. This sys­tem is clearly flawed.

North­line stated in its ap­pli­ca­tion to the depart­ment that it was seek­ing to bring in 60 fork­lift driv­ers over three years as “skilled overseas work­ers”.

But it ad­mits in the same ap­pli­ca­tion that these work­ers will be trained “once in Aus­tralia”.

It is ridicu­lous for com­pa­nies to im­port fork­lift driv­ers into Aus­tralia. Train­ing for the jobs can take just two days. Un­em­ploy­ment and un­der­em­ploy­ment are on the rise: in parts of Queens­land, youth un­em­ploy­ment is more than 28 per cent, in parts of NSW it is over 20 per cent. Why can’t North­line source driv­ers from these ar­eas?

The com­pany did not even try to prop­erly ad­ver­tise to hire the lo­cal work­force. Prior to their ap­pli­ca­tion to the depart­ment, North­line put just one ad­vert on­line for “ca­sual” po­si­tions in Bris­bane. When we queried their lack of at­tempts to hire driv­ers lo­cally, two more ad­verts sud­denly went up on­line – but again for “ca­sual” po­si­tions. The com­pany re­fused to an­swer any ques­tions we had about the rates and con­di­tions for these jobs.

North­line’s busi­ness model is to keep wages low and to out­source work. It has no en­ter­prise agree­ments with work­ers. It was found dur­ing an au­dit at a dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre by the Trans­port Work­ers Union of se­ri­ous breaches of fa­tigue rules. One truck driver had worked for 11.5 hours with­out a break; an­other worked for 12.5 hours and had only taken a 30-minute break. Records were also found to be poorly main­tained.

This at­tempt to im­port trans­port work­ers doesn’t just af­fect fork­lift driv­ers or North­line – which is why their move must be ex­posed and chal­lenged. A com­pany which seeks to un­der­cut rates by im­port­ing overseas work­ers to ex­ploit them will un­der­mine rates for other work­ers it em­ploys and rates for wages in com­pa­nies it com­petes with.

This is­sue is def­i­nitely not about mi­grant work­ers. They are not ‘steal­ing’ jobs. Rather these jobs are be­ing given away by com­pa­nies like North­line in an ef­fort to push down rates and wages.

Ex­ploita­tion of overseas work­ers goes hand in hand with moves by in­dus­try to re­duce wages and al­lowances in a re­view of the award sys­tem and op­po­si­tion to min­i­mum fair rates for owner- driv­ers.

It is all about re­duc­ing rates across the in­dus­try.

LACK­ING COURAGE

These trans­port op­er­a­tors are on a cru­sade to lower rates be­cause wealthy re­tail­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers are con­tin­u­ally cut­ting trans­port con­tracts, pil­ing fi­nan­cial pres­sure on trans­port com­pa­nies and driv­ers. It is hap­pen­ing be­cause the likes of NatRoad and the Australian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion do not have the courage to de­fend the in­dus­try and stand up to clients.

We call on NatRoad to stop its de­mands to re­duce rates for em­ploy­ees and end their op­po­si­tion to fair rates for owner- driv­ers, which the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment has backed them on.

The Trans­port Work­ers Union is call­ing for fair rates across the in­dus­try to stop the race to the bot­tom in trans­port.

We also want to see greater rights for mi­grant work­ers and train­ing to en­sure they un­der­stand their rights and have ac­cess to union rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

We have been also been seek­ing, for some time, in­dus­try-wide train­ing to be car­ried out un­der the aus­pices of na­tional au­dit­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and in­dus­trial rights.

There is much to be proud of about our road trans­port in­dus­try. Right across it driv­ers are stand­ing up for fair­ness and de­cent stan­dards, from ar­moured cars, buses, owner-driv­ers and even bi­cy­cle couri­ers.

Em­ploy­ment min­is­ter Michaelia Cash last April called for the na­tion’s truck driv­ers to down tools and “get your trucks out and, if you have to, do a con­voy to Can­berra” as part of her cam­paign against min­i­mum fair rates for owner- driv­ers. Not too many heeded her call. In con­trast, more than 800 truck driv­ers and their fam­i­lies protested against Gov­ern­ment moves against driv­ers in the week be­fore the fed­eral elec­tion.

Truck driv­ers are again stand­ing up against un­fair laws and chal­leng­ing them. They are stand­ing up against the push to lower rates and stan­dards in our in­dus­try. They are stand­ing up against ex­ploita­tion of overseas work­ers. They are stand­ing up for our in­dus­try’s fu­ture.

“ONE TRUCK DRIVER HAD WORKED FOR 11.5 HOURS WITH­OUT A BREAK”

WITH TWU NA­TIONAL SEC­RE­TARY TONY SHEL­DON

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