Australian truck drivers are fighting for their rights on two fronts – the road transport associations seeking to reduce conditions, and now the ATO cutting allowances, writes Tony Sheldon
“Don’t deprive hardworking truck drivers of allowances they’re entitled to.”
AS IF the job was not hard enough ─ drivers have been facing a doublewhammy recently. While fighting attempts by NatRoad to erode their pay and conditions, along comes an attack by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to reduce by $40 the amount that can be submitted for meal allowances before receipts are required.
But the response has shown the resilience of drivers and proves that when they stick together, they can win.
For the past four years a review of transport awards has been continuing. It has culminated in recent decisions by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) on various changes – some of which involve applications by drivers with the support of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) for improvements to pay and conditions. Other decisions were made in light of attempts by NatRoad to erode the rights of drivers.
It is clear the system is broken, and that employers and clients are trying to game the system to exploit drivers. But drivers fought off NatRoad’s attempts to stop their meal allowances, which would have robbed them of more than $77 per week. The Commission also ruled against an attempt to stop drivers getting higher rates for higher duties.
Drivers also had an important win in the award review which requires employers to give them safe driving plans. This is important so drivers can see the timeframes for trips and can plan rest breaks.
Drivers will not stop there. They will continue to push for fairness in the industry and to fix the rules that are clearly broken. The TWU will support them all the way. For more information on the award review, go to www.twu. com.au/awardreview
But while these wins were being achieved, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) was releasing a determination to pile more pressure on drivers. Without any consultation or warning, the ATO slashed the amount drivers can claim in meal allowances without receipts to $55.30 per day, down from $97.40.
Drivers have rightly been up in arms. They have come together and with the support of the TWU have set up a petition on the issue, calling on members of parliament to seek a reversal of the determination.
“How many times does the government need to kick people making an honest living?” asked one driver in his comments to our petition.
But perhaps the most pertinent point was made by a West Australian driver who said the changes might encourage drivers to skip their breaks, an already widespread problem with huge implications for road safety.
“Skipping breaks is not acceptable. Don’t deprive hardworking truck drivers of allowances they’re entitled to,” he said.
The TWU, along with other industry representatives, held a meeting with the tax office in August to oppose the move and to question why truck drivers were not consulted on the move.
It was clear from the meeting that this Government department has little or no understanding of what life is like on the road. The long hours, the many consecutive nights away from home, and the high cost of food and facilities at truck stops appeared to be an absolute revelation. Bureaucrats would do well to consult studies detailing working patterns of truck drivers before making decisions affecting their lives. Macquarie University published a survey in February which showed 10 per cent of drivers work more than 80 hours a week, while 80 per cent work more than 50 hours a week.
We have demanded that the Tax Office set out a timeframe to fix this mess. A solution cannot come fast enough for truck drivers, some of which are at breaking point.
Since the Federal Government abolished an independent tribunal to hear matters affecting safety and fairness in transport, there is no one body drivers can turn to for help. The ATO can make a decision which ignores the effect it will have on safety, and the rest of the Federal Government looks the other way.
The real irony is there are problems that need urgent fixing – but they do not include driver tax claims. Drivers are dying and being injured at work in greater numbers, with 40 per cent of all workplace deaths since the start of the year involving a transport worker.
The total number of transport workers deaths since January is 46, according to Safe Work Australia. This compares with 64 deaths for all of 2016, and 52 deaths for all of 2015.
Equally, there is a problem with widespread underpayment of wages, allowances and superannuation involving truck drivers. No Federal Government agency is effectively addressing this problem.
In the meantime, 678 companies with revenues exceeding $100 million paid zero tax in the 2014-15 financial year. Not a single cent.
While we await the outcome of our negotiations with the ATO on this issue, I call on all drivers, their families and supporters to sign this important petition today at www.megaphone. org.au/petitions/truckies-demand-fairallowance
WITH TWU NATIONAL SECRETARY TONY SHELDON