Back­break­ing cuts

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

Owner Driver - - Owner / Driver -

“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.

FAIR­NESS PUSH

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.

NO EM­PA­THY

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

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