The in­dus­try’s dark side

Long-haul truck driv­ers are known to en­joy the free­dom of the high­way, but be­hind the scenes the in­dus­try is breed­ing a cul­ture of dan­ger and dis­con­tent. Tony Sheldon writes

Owner Driver - - Owner/Driver - For any­one ex­pe­ri­enc­ing men­tal health is­sues please call 1300 DRIVER or Be­yond Blue on 1300 22 4636. TONY SHELDON is the na­tional sec­re­tary of the Trans­port Work­ers Union of Aus­tralia. Con­tact Tony at: NSW Trans­port Work­ers Union, Trans­port House, 388-390

“I DON’T care what you say to me, I’m killing my­self as soon as you leave.”

Th­ese were the words spo­ken to for­mer truck driver Leon Ruri when he went to help a man threat­en­ing to com­mit sui­cide. The threat was real: the man had rope in his car and was adamant it was the only way to solve his prob­lems, which in­cluded be­ing in­jured and out of work for some time.

Leon knows all about men­tal ill­ness and also suf­fered se­vere bouts when his mar­riage broke down and fi­nan­cial pres­sure piled on.

“There’s only one thing that spins faster than the axles on a truck and that’s your mind,” Leon says of the long hours he spent on the road while deal­ing with his men­tal ill­ness.

Trans­port driver Char­lie Ni­chols also ex­pe­ri­enced men­tal ill­ness when his mar­riage broke down and says seek­ing help is vi­tal.

“I’m proud to say I’ve got a lot of sat­is­fac­tion back in my life. But had I done some­thing sooner, I would have kept my re­la­tion­ship with my wife,” Char­lie says.

Char­lie and Leon re­cently spoke out about men­tal ill­ness among trans­port work­ers. Both men are part of a cam­paign by the Trans­port Work­ers Union (TWU) to work with beyond­blue to reach out to peo­ple who need help.

A sur­vey of more than 4,000 truck driv­ers showed over 22 per cent said they had ex­pe­ri­enced men­tal ill­ness at some point.

We know from pre­vi­ous sur­veys that truck driv­ers have a 7 per cent higher chance than the rest of the pop­u­la­tion of de­vel­op­ing men­tal ill­ness.

Sui­cide rates are also high among truck driv­ers. A study by Deakin Univer­sity showed 323 truck driv­ers com­mit­ted sui­cide be­tween 2001 and 2010.

An anal­y­sis by the Vic­to­rian coroner’s court shows truck driv­ers had the high­est num­ber of sui­cides out of any other pro­fes­sion, with 53 driv­ers tak­ing their own lives be­tween 2008 and 2014.

When you look at the state of the truck­ing in­dus­try, it’s not hard to fig­ure out the par­tic­u­lar fac­tors that put truck driv­ers at higher risk of men­tal ill­ness.

BUL­LY­ING CUL­TURE

Driv­ers say pres­sure at work im­pacts on their en­tire lives, of­ten cre­at­ing men­tal health prob­lems.

When a bul­ly­ing cul­ture ex­ists in the yard where driv­ers are forced to meet un­re­al­is­tic dead­lines, there is pres­sure to take risks at work, such as driv­ing long hours, skip­ping rest breaks, for­go­ing strap­ping down loads prop­erly to save time. This, in turn, causes chronic fa­tigue and means driv­ers are away from fam­ily for long pe­ri­ods. When at home, they are tired and ir­ri­ta­ble.

Of­ten go­ing hand in hand with this dif­fi­cult work sit­u­a­tion are low rates, non-pay­ment of al­lowances or su­per­an­nu­a­tion, and un­der­pay­ment or wage theft from their pay­checks.

Rais­ing th­ese is­sues at work can mean even more pres­sure for driv­ers – their hours might be cut, which means even less money com­ing in.

One driver re­cently spoke about the re­duced hours and hu­mil­i­at­ing tasks he would be given af­ter chal­leng­ing his boss, who was pres­sur­ing him to drive long hours. “You’d find your­self on seven-hour days wash­ing trucks in the yard,” he says.

Cou­pled with th­ese fac­tors are the high rates of deaths and in­juries in truck­ing. The num­ber of trans­port work­ers killed at work spiked in the last year.

Usu­ally an al­ready un­ac­cept­able rate of one-in-four work­ers killed is a trans­port worker. But in the last year that fig­ure has jumped to al­most 40 per cent.

It takes a special type of su­per­hu­man in­di­vid­ual to not be af­fected by th­ese fac­tors.

If you are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing per­sonal prob­lems in your mar­riage or deal­ing with ill­ness or fi­nan­cial prob­lems in your fam­ily, this work sit­u­a­tion can make things all the worse.

This is why we need em­ploy­ers on board to ad­dress men­tal health by tack­ling the prob­lems right across the trans­port in­dus­try.

We know trans­port op­er­a­tors them­selves are on tight mar­gins, and pres­sur­ing driv­ers to work harder on less money may seem the only way to keep afloat. But this is just not a sus­tain­able op­tion.

HOLD­ING TO AC­COUNT

The top of the sup­ply chain is not be­ing held to ac­count for this pres­sure on trans­port.

Wealthy re­tail­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers are get­ting off scot­free for im­pos­ing low- cost con­tracts while trans­port op­er­a­tors and driv­ers are left to sub­sist on poor rates that are caus­ing prob­lems well be­yond miss­ing pay­ment dead­lines.

It is af­fect­ing their lives and their men­tal health. Ul­ti­mately, it also af­fects the lives of or­di­nary road users in truck crashes.

We need a sys­tem that can ex­am­ine the en­tire trans­port sup­ply chain and en­sure wealthy clients are held to ac­count for what is hap­pen­ing in truck­ing.

We need em­ployer as­so­ci­a­tions on board to stop at­tack­ing driv­ers’ pay and wages and to openly tackle em­ploy­ers that pile pres­sure on driv­ers to take risks and steal from their pay and su­per.

Re­cently, NatRoad CEO War­ren Clarke de­fended his or­gan­i­sa­tion’s moves to re­duce pay and al­lowances for driv­ers in a review of the trans­port awards.

He re­jected much-needed im­prove­ments to driv­ers’ pay and con­di­tions, say­ing he op­posed new mea­sures that “fail to bring about any pro­duc­tiv­ity gains”.

This short-sighted view fails to recog­nise the im­por­tance of in­vest­ing in well-trained, ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers whose first pri­or­ity is safety. With­out that, no trans­port op­er­a­tor can have a long-term fu­ture.

The TWU cam­paign to tackle men­tal health is un­der­way and hand in hand with it is our cam­paign to fight for a bet­ter in­dus­try over­all. Join our fight to­day at www.safer­ates.org

“TRUCK DRIV­ERS HAD THE HIGH­EST NUM­BER OF SUI­CIDES OUT OF ANY OTHER PRO­FES­SION”

WITH TWU NA­TIONAL SEC­RE­TARY TONY SHELDON

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