Change in the wind
The calls are getting louder for the formation of an independent transport industry body “We won’t give up until we have Safe Rates in Australia.”
SO WHAT was all that for? This is the question we must surely be asking the transport employer bodies which sided with the Federal Government in abolishing fair minimum rates for truck drivers two years ago. It turns out this disastrous move, which in the stroke of a pen also abolished accountability on clients like retailer Aldi, hasn’t resulted in any come-back for these transport employer groups at all.
This we can see clearly from the recent Federal Budget. There was a $2 billion cut to infrastructure funding, compared to forwardestimated funding in the previous budget, according to the Australian Automobile Association and the peak body Infrastructure Partnerships Australia. The Australian Automobile Association also criticised the “absence of a major commitment to road safety” in the budget.
The likes of Natroad, the Australian Logistics Council and the Australian Trucking Association are looking very foolish in light of this clear slap in the face. By cementing their failures and their inability to win for the trucking community, these groups have clearly had their day when it comes to influencing policy.
Things are moving ahead in any case. Drivers are clamouring for change and this is being reflected and encouraged by employer groups with an eye to the future, not the past. Politicians are also taking on the demand for change with a crossparty Senate committee chaired by WA Senator Glenn Sterle unanimously backing 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”.
Change is not just happening in Australia. Safe Rates is taking off globally. On March 30, a Safe Rates Bill passed the South Korean National Assembly, which will come into effect fully in 2020.
The bill means fair minimum rates will be set for drivers in the container and cement sectors. The law also includes client accountability with rates for transport companies also set. Violations of either driver or transport company rates will incur penalties. This is a huge win for drivers in Korea, who have faced harsh conditions for decades.
Pressure on drivers in South Korea is intense, with around 1,200 dying each year in truck-related crashes. Overloading of trucks causes 38 per cent of truck-related crashes.
They are exploited through a multi-layered subcontracting system which means clients have avoided any responsibility for conditions, payments or safety.
This structure promotes constant competition to cut rates and a race to the bottom in trucking.
Owner-drivers were forced to go on strike in recent years over a 20-year pay freeze. In response, the previous government responded by jailing drivers, union leaders and assaulting them during peaceful protests. The Korean win is major step towards guarantee of fair rates for truck drivers and will allow drivers to push for wider legal and systemic reform.
Wol-san Liem of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union said the Bill is important in addressing the wrongs in the Korean transport sector: “We now have a mechanism for client accountability - this is a first step but an important step forward.”
This win has given a boost to drivers and supporters fighting for real change elsewhere. The International Transport Workers Federation is pushing to bolster wins at the United Nation’s labour body, the International Labour Organization (ILO). These wins included agreement among employers, governments and employee groups at to develop a global code of practice which will focus on safe and fair pay rates for transport workers.
The ILO also passed a resolution recognising the need for “fair and safe remuneration systems” and highlighting that road transport workers in freight and passenger transport have “some of the highest injury and fatality rates”.
The world is moving ahead on the regulation of transport supply chains. Australia will be at the forefront of this change. Our union is committed to ensuring delivering Safe Rates will remain at the top of the political and industrial agenda.
We recommitted to this at our recent National Council in Adelaide.
Drivers are also behind us on this, as driver Frank Black, attending a recent rally against Aldi, said: “We won’t give up until we have Safe Rates in Australia. This is about fairness and it’s also making sure that drivers can come home safely at the end of each day.”
Drivers and the community that supports them are not content to be at the mercy of the cosy network between so-called transport representative bodies and the Federal Government that serves to constantly take from them.
They are not content to work themselves literally to death to feed the corporate greed of wealthy retailers like Aldi.
Drivers in Australia are fighting for a well-regulated industry that treats them fairly and has safety as a number one priority. Anyone who also aspires to this goal should join the movement today: www.saferates.org.au