Tak­ing it to the streets

Driv­ers and owner-driv­ers have protested en masse at the cur­rent state of the road trans­port in­dus­try

Owner Driver - - Twu - Tony Shel­don

THE DUST MAY have set­tled but the anger clearly hasn’t gone away. Driv­ers are adamant more than ever that blame for prob­lems in the trans­port in­dus­try should not just lie with them. A sur­vey of more than 1000 driv­ers car­ried out in the weeks after the ma­jor po­lice op­er­a­tion in Fe­bru­ary showed what driv­ers think about the state of the in­dus­try. Em­ployer groups need to sit up and take no­tice be­cause ac­tivism is grow­ing among driv­ers and they are de­mand­ing change.

The vast ma­jor­ity of driv­ers – 87 per cent – said po­lice op­er­a­tions tar­get­ing trucks will not make their job safer. More than 93 per cent said pres­sure on driv­ers is con­tin­u­ing or in­creas­ing.

Driv­ers iden­ti­fied pres­sure com­ing from clients (54 per cent), un­re­al­is­tic dead­lines (49 per cent), em­ploy­ers (44 per cent) and fi­nan­cial prob­lems (40 per cent). Driv­ers said bad roads and a lack of safe truck stops were also ma­jor prob­lems when it comes to safety.

Sadly, de­spite 68 per cent of driv­ers say­ing the fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments were re­spon­si­ble for fix­ing the pres­sure, we have yet to hear a re­sponse from th­ese par­ties to the sur­vey. More than 93 per cent of driv­ers said they wanted to see change in the in­dus­try but are em­ploy­ers, clients or gov­ern­ments lis­ten­ing? They should be lis­ten­ing, as some of the tes­ti­mony from driv­ers is pow­er­ful and heart­break­ing.

DRIV­ERS’ VOICES

One owner-driver, who works long haul, says: “Rate un­der­cut­ting is a big cause of men­tal pres­sure and also leads to push­ing your­self harder to make up cash flow, caus­ing men­tal pres­sure and fa­tigue.”

Another owner-driver says: “How can I op­er­ate my ve­hi­cle and pro­vide a safe and com­pli­ant ser­vice to my clients when my rates are con­stantly be­ing screwed down to the wire. We are be­ing forced to run for some­times no more than fuel money with zero profit in what we do. And un­for­tu­nately we are heav­ily fi­nan­cially lever­aged with our truck pay­ments, high over­heads and ridicu­lous pay­ment terms. So of­ten we have no choice but ac­cept a load or have the truck parked up and go broke! The sys­tem needs a shake up from the top down, not the bot­tom up!”

“Pres­sure from low wages growth means I have to do more runs to meet the fi­nan­cial needs of my fam­ily as my part­ner had a work­place in­jury … my whole fam­ily’s fi­nan­cial po­si­tion re­lies on me,” says another driver.

A for­mer long-dis­tance driver com­mented: “I quit due to men­tal stress break­down num­ber two. I now, after spend­ing a con­sid­er­able time on Cen­tre­link, am re­cov­er­ing and have a low-paid nor­mal job.”

Th­ese are the words of driv­ers and ev­i­dence of where the prob­lems lie in our in­dus­try. Pres­sure is mount­ing and at its heart is the squeeze on trans­port op­er­a­tors and driv­ers to get the job done for the low­est pos­si­ble cost. Men­tal health and stress on fam­i­lies is a by-prod­uct of this pres­sure. Ul­ti­mately it is a ma­jor fac­tor be­hind the in­crease in deaths in truck crashes.

PRES­SURE DE­NIAL

It is sad that, as driv­ers were tak­ing the time to add their com­ments and give their re­sponses to this sur­vey, the Aus­tralian Lo­gis­tics Coun­cil was fi­nal­is­ing a po­si­tion pa­per on heavy ve­hi­cle safety, which sought to min­imise the pres­sure driv­ers are un­der. This pa­per de­nies that driv­ers are un­der pres­sure to get the job done be­cause of pay rates.

It states dryly that this is based on a “flawed premise”. Iron­i­cally, later in the po­si­tion pa­per, it states that there is a prob­lem with trans­port op­er­a­tors un­der fi­nan­cial pres­sure cut­ting back on truck main­te­nance.

The Aus­tralian Lo­gis­tics Coun­cil, like some other em­ployer lobby groups, has its head in the sand. De­spite decades of re­search and tes­ti­mony from driv­ers, it re­fuses to ac­knowl­edge that the squeeze on trans­port is con­tribut­ing to safety risks.

The coun­cil should start lis­ten­ing to driv­ers to hear what their ex­pe­ri­ence is on the roads.

It should un­der­stand that the ba­sis of a safe rates sys­tem will ul­ti­mately ben­e­fit trans­port op­er­a­tors and make the in­dus­try safer by keep­ing in check fi­nan­cial pres­sure from clients. The coun­cil should also start lis­ten­ing to cross-party po­lit­i­cal lead­ers from the Ru­ral and Re­gional Af­fairs and Trans­port Ref­er­ences Com­mit­tee which last Oc­to­ber ap­proved a re­port rec­om­mend­ing in­dus­try-led talks to set up an in­de­pen­dent body on “sup­ply chain stan­dards and accountability as well as sus­tain­able, safe rates for the trans­port in­dus­try”.

We will be tak­ing the mes­sage of driv­ers to gov­ern­ments and em­ployer groups to show them the ev­i­dence of where the prob­lems lie in our in­dus­try. Driv­ers have al­ready taken to the streets and brought the mes­sage to Aldi, as one of the main cul­prits among clients which re­fuses to own up to its role in mak­ing our roads un­safe.

This ac­tivism will grow and con­tinue in the com­ing months.

“Pres­sure is mount­ing and at its heart is the squeeze on trans­port op­er­a­tors and driv­ers to get the job done for the low­est pos­si­ble cost.”

Be­low: Driv­ers took to the streets on April 18 in a na­tional protest against un­safe prac­tices

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