Deaf­en­ing si­lence

A re­cent fa­tal ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing two trucks has brought lit­tle re­ac­tion from in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions

Owner Driver - - Twu - Michael Kaine

YOU CAN just about make out the front of the truck, the grid barely vis­i­ble amid the an­gry red blaze. Pho­tographs and video show flames leap­ing high into the Queens­land sky, flanked by black smoke. De­bris lit­ters the ground. The head on col­li­sion be­tween two trucks last month that killed two driv­ers on the Kennedy High­way at Tichum Creek was hor­rific by any stan­dards. What has made it all the worse is the fact that both trucks were owned by Blen­ner’s Trans­port.

The Queens­land com­pany has pre­vi­ously been at the cen­tre of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into se­ri­ous fa­tigue breaches. In 2012, po­lice raided the com­pany and in­ves­ti­ga­tions were launched. The Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor got in­volved and the chain of re­spon­si­bil­ity (COR) laws were in­voked. ABC Four Cor­ners ex­posed what was go­ing on.

Driv­ers copped the blame for the breaches – 45 were fined $65,000. But the com­pany has never been held to ac­count, with all charges re­lated to fa­tigue man­age­ment and COR against it even­tu­ally dropped last year.

A state­ment from the Queens­land De­part­ment of Trans­port and Main Roads shows that the charges were not dropped be­cause they were un­proven: “The pros­e­cu­tion was dis­con­tin­ued due to a com­bi­na­tion of as­sess­ing the progress of the lit­i­ga­tion up to that point, the fact that the rel­e­vant leg­is­la­tion in is­sue had now been re­pealed, and the level of Blen­ner’s com­pli­ance since the lit­i­ga­tion first com­menced,” a Queens­land De­part­ment of Trans­port and Main Roads spokesper­son said at the time.

More im­por­tantly the com­pa­nies that Blen­ner’s was work­ing for were never held to ac­count. Op­er­a­tions man­ager Stephen Glee­son, who won an un­fair dis­missal case af­ter he was sacked by the com­pany for rais­ing safety is­sues, had also raised the prob­lem of the pres­sure Blen­ner’s clients were putting on the com­pany.

One year later two driv­ers are dead; their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties left dev­as­tated.

Fol­low­ing last month’s tragic events our union called for a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the crash that killed the two driv­ers. At the time of writ­ing, no in­ves­ti­ga­tion to our knowl­edge has be­gun.

BUL­LY­ING TAC­TICS

Since the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment tore down a road safety watch­dog over two years ago, there is no or­gan­i­sa­tion where we can raise our con­cerns, while the au­thor­i­ties and reg­u­la­tors ig­nore our de­mands for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Mean­while, Blen­ner’s adopt a bul­ly­ing tac­tic. It has sent our Queens­land branch a so­lic­i­tor’s let­ter de­mand­ing it re­tracts the con­tents of a press re­lease sent out af­ter the dou­ble fatal­ity call­ing for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The si­lence from some in the in­dus­try is deaf­en­ing.

Blen­ner’s has, since 1997, been a mem­ber of the Aus­tralian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion’s (ATA) ac­cred­i­ta­tion Truck­Safe, which its web­site says is “is aimed at im­prov­ing the safety and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of truck­ing op­er­a­tors na­tion­wide”.

This is not the only win­dow-dress­ing that goes on in our in­dus­try.

The ATA and the Aus­tralian Lo­gis­tics Coun­cil have lately been pump­ing out flawed plans for safety in truck­ing. Both or­gan­i­sa­tions are des­per­ate to look like they care about the slaugh­ter in­volv­ing trucks on our roads. But the weak vol­un­tary codes and the plat­i­tudes that “more needs to be done” are re­ally like re­ar­rang­ing deck chairs on the Ti­tanic.

The truth is these or­gan­i­sa­tions are do­ing noth­ing for our in­dus­try. Even their gasps over the “big win” fol­low­ing the Fed­eral Trans­port Min­is­ter’s an­nounce­ment at NatRoad’s an­nual con­fer­ence of fund­ing for road safety projects turned out to be a dud. The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment has in fact cut $134 mil­lion from the Heavy Ve­hi­cles Safety and Pro­duc­tiv­ity Pro­gramme since it took of­fice.

I’d like to echo the sen­ti­ments of an­other colum­nist from these pages who asked last month: what have the politi­cians and in­dus­try groups, which promised the world when they tore down the road safety watch­dog, de­liv­ered since then?

There has been no in­crease in rates and un­paid work, wait­ing time, and fi­nan­cial in­se­cu­rity are still ma­jor prob­lems. Trans­port op­er­a­tors are still go­ing to the wall at a higher rates than most other in­dus­tries be­cause the mar­gins are so tight.

Com­pa­nies and their clients still aren’t held to ac­count when driv­ers get pres­sured into gru­elling work prac­tices and they are still be able to sack any­one who calls them out. In fact, clients have in the last two years been given a green light to heap the pres­sure on even more. Just look at how Aldi has been em­bold­ened to take our union to the Fed­eral Court to try and stop driv­ers speak­ing out about rates and con­di­tions in their sup­ply chain.

And of course the slaugh­ter is still con­tin­u­ing. Deaths from truck crashes are still far too high, while truck driv­ers are still more likely to be killed at work than any other pro­fes­sion.

The good news is there are in­dus­try groups, trans­port op­er­a­tors, and driv­ers who un­der­stand the noth­ing­ness that these weak or­gan­i­sa­tions de­liver. They have joined the push for real change that will stop the rot and make our in­dus­try bet­ter. To join this fight, go to www.safer­ates.org.au.

“The au­thor­i­ties and reg­u­la­tors ig­nore our de­mands for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Be­low: Po­lice raided Blen­ner’s Trans­port back in 2012

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