United by safety, di­vided by rates

Re­flec­tions on road trans­port’s chang­ing at­ti­tudes to safety, com­pli­ance and con­flict as seen through driv­ers’ eyes

Australian Transport News - - Contents - WORDS TA­MARA WHITSED

Ta­mara Whitsed re­flects on road trans­port’s chang­ing at­ti­tudes to safety, com­pli­ance and con­flict over the past quar­ter of a cen­tury

The truck­ing in­dus­try was un­der in­tense scru­tiny in 1992. A tragic truck and bus crash at Grafton in 1989 had killed 21 peo­ple and caused a pub­lic out­cry.

Gov­ern­ments were de­ter­mined to rein in the cow­boy el­e­ment of the in­dus­try amid rev­e­la­tions of il­licit use of ephedrine and wide­spread dis­re­gard for fa­tigue reg­u­la­tions.

Look­ing back, driver Barry Grim­son says the pub­lic’s con­cerns were war­ranted, but the in­dus­try has changed a lot since then.

“I prob­a­bly owe the rea­son that I’m still be­hind the wheel to the changes made,” says Grim­son, 74, who drives in­ter­state for Unan­derra Tanker Hire.

Grim­son was driv­ing for Comet Overnight in the early 1990s. In the past 25 years he has seen reg­u­la­tions tighten and fines in­crease. He has ad­justed his driv­ing ac­cord­ingly and, in 2014, ATA NSW awarded him the NSW Pro­fes­sional Driver of the Year Award.

He be­lieves re­quired breaks re­duce the pres­sure of the job and says this has prob­a­bly ex­tended his ca­reer. But he adds to­day’s fa­tigue reg­u­la­tions are “too rigid” and wishes the Aus­tralian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion ( ATA) and Trans­port Work­ers Union ( TWU) would get their “shiny ar­ses into gear” to fix them.

Grim­son hasn’t al­ways re­lied on the TWU and as­so­ci­a­tions to lobby for change. He was one of five in­sti­ga­tors of the 1979 Ra­zor­back Block­ade.


After the Grafton tragedy, in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions braced them­selves, ex­pect­ing gov­ern­ments to re­spond with harsh reg­u­la­tions. That’s why, late in 1989, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from leading truck­ing as­so­ci­a­tions formed the Road Trans­port In­dus­try Fo­rum ( RTIF) to present a united voice for truck­ing op­er­a­tors.

In 1992, the RTIF changed its name to the Road Trans­port Fo­rum (RTF), be­came in­cor­po­rated and launched its Mo­bile Safety In­for­ma­tion Trailer.

Now known as the Aus­tralian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has been the in­dus­try peak body dur­ing a pe­riod which has seen roads opened up to B-dou­bles and other high-pro­duc­tiv­ity com­bi­na­tions, tight­en­ing of fa­tigue reg­u­la­tions, in­tro­duc­tion of chain of re­spon­si­bil­ity (COR) leg­is­la­tion, and es­tab­lish­ment of the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor (NHVR).

When a gov­ern­ment rolls up its sleeves to thump the truck­ing in­dus­try, the ATA steps into the melee to ne­go­ti­ate a fairer deal for op­er­a­tors.

An early achieve­ment was in­tro­duc­ing the ATA’s own vol­un­tary ac­cred­i­ta­tion scheme, Truck­Safe. The ATA be­lieved self-reg­u­la­tion would win re­spect from politi­cians and in­crease their lob­by­ing clout. To­day, Truck­Safe com­prises five mod­ules (six for live­stock trans­porters).

An­other com­pli­ance scheme, the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Scheme

(NHVAS), has been avail­able since 1999. This is now man­aged by the NHVR. Ac­cred­ited op­er­a­tors are likely to have an of­fice wall filled with fold­ers la­belled ‘Mass Man­age­ment’, ‘Main­te­nance’, ‘Truck­Safe’ and ‘Fa­tigue’. And they prob­a­bly in­creased of­fice staff to stay on top of com­pli­ance.

Trans­port of­fices are more com­put­erised than in 1992, and ac­count­ing prac­tices al­tered in 2000 to ac­com­mo­date the GST. Fleet own­ers love soft­ware which can show ev­ery truck in the fleet at a glance. Driv­ers are less ex­cited about be­ing tracked ev­ery inch of the jour­ney.

Not all driv­ers have been happy to em­brace change. There have been re­cur­ring themes: work di­aries make driv­ers rest when they are alert and drive when they are tired; politi­cians don’t un­der­stand the re­al­i­ties of truck­ing; it’s hard to find healthy food on the high­way; car driv­ers need to learn how to share the road with trucks; and there is a special place in hell re­served for car­a­van­ners. And then there is the is­sue that has been fes­ter­ing for decades – rates.


In 2012, the Fed­eral La­bor Gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished the Road Safety Re­mu­ner­a­tion Tri­bunal (RSRT) which de­ter­mined min­i­mum pay rates for con­tract truck driv­ers. But the Coalition Gov­ern­ment abol­ished the tri­bunal and its Road Safety Re­mu­ner­a­tion Or­der (RSRO) in 2016.

Owner-driver Frank Black sup­ported the RSRT and says he was “dumb­founded” when

“To me you go back to the age-old com­plaint in the in­dus­try, and that is the driv­ers be­ing put un­der pres­sure”

sec­tors of the trans­port in­dus­try protested against it. Black rep­re­sented owner-driv­ers on the ATA gen­eral coun­cil from 2003 to 2009 and again from 2011 un­til early 2017. He is also a mem­ber of the TWU, which was the RSRT’s most vo­cal sup­porter.

The ATA nor­mally steers clear of in­dus­trial re­la­tions is­sues, and Black be­lieves the as­so­ci­a­tion should have re­mained im­par­tial in this RSRT de­bate. “They shouldn’t have protested against it,” he says, re­fer­ring to the 2016 Con­voy to Can­berra.

Black says the ATA was “un­bi­ased” when it was first es­tab­lished, “but I think in the last 10 years or so it’s a very bi­ased or­gan­i­sa­tion, and it’s bi­ased to­wards em­ploy­ers and em­ployer groups”. He was driv­ing a Mercedes 1418 in 1992. To­day he drives a Freight­liner Cen­tury Class and says bet­ter trucks and roads have made the in­dus­try safer over the past 25 years.

But truck­ing still has its dan­gers. “To me, you go back to the age-old com­plaint in the in­dus­try, and that is the driv­ers be­ing put un­der pres­sure.” He says COR “needs to be fol­lowed up more, and a lot more heads in com­pa­nies need to roll be­cause they are still find­ing ways around it”.

Vic­to­rian live­stock car­rier John Beer, who op­posed the RSRT, re­placed Black as the ATA owner- driver rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the 2017 elec­tion. Beer says he is con­scious of the in­flu­ence “big op­er­a­tors” have on the ATA. But he says there are a few other

Be­low: Barry ‘Sleepy’ Grim­son re­mem­bers when driv­ers could carry two log books, have a beer with lunch and block­ade the Hume High­way. But the 74-year-old in­ter­state driver says the in­dus­try has changed for the bet­ter

Above: The 2016 Con­voy to Can­berra protest­ing against the RSRT

Left: Rod Han­nifey is an honorary mem­ber of the Na­tional Road Freighters As­so­ci­a­tion. Photo: Steve Skin­ner

Op­po­site top to bot­tom: Bris­bane 2008 and ALDODA’s at­tempted na­tional shut­down in­cluded protest con­voys; John Beer is the new ATA owner-driver rep­re­sen­ta­tive; Frank Black (left) re­ceives the in­au­gu­ral TWU Na­tional Coun­cil Award from TWU na­tional sec­re­tary Tony Shel­don at the union’s 2012 na­tional coun­cil din­ner

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