Taking it to the streets
Drivers and owner-drivers have protested en masse at the current state of the road transport industry
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.
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.
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