Adding insult to injury
The NSW authorities’ answer to road transport’s high casualty numbers? Fine more truck drivers!
HOW MANY FUNERALS WILL IT TAKE? How many wage ripoffs or non-payment of super will it take? How many ownerdriver businesses going to the wall? How many truck driver suicides? How many crises does our industry have to endure before the Federal Government takes note and does something?
By any standards, these past couple of years have been tough for drivers. We’ve seen the deaths and injuries from truck crashes go up, with an almost 10 per cent jump to September last year overall. While other industries are seeing a decrease in workplace deaths, deaths among drivers is going up – over 30 per cent of all worker deaths involve a transport worker.
Some horrific crashes have prompted empty, insulting and misguided responses from politicians. We heard from the New South Wales roads minister about how the best way to tackle truck crashes was to give drivers electric shocks to stop them from falling asleep at the wheel.
We saw the cavalry rush out in the form of the NSW Police and Roads and Maritime Services fining drivers and forcing them to cop the blame for the problems in the industry.
Drivers responded in force when the Transport Workers Union put up a survey online. Of the more than 1,000 drivers who filled out the survey, 93 per cent said pressure was continuing or increasing.
“It is a pity they did not target the entire supply chain, from producers right through to the retail sales, and have a good look at the unreasonable pressures and work conditions that they place upon drivers,” said one driver.
Did the Federal Government reach out to drivers at that point and offer to listen to them and hear their views? Did they make any overtures that they would address concerns? Did they even admit there was a problem? They most certainly did not.
In fact, the Federal Government has done its utmost to pretend that everything in transport is just fine.
They have ignored the pressure drivers are under, they have been silent when the deaths and injuries got out of hand, and they have stood by while businesses go under because of a lack of minimum rates. They have allowed wealthy retailers like Aldi to refuse to take responsibility for the role they play in making the roads less safe and to dictate terms and conditions to drivers and transport operators which force them to struggle.
The Federal Government have sadly been aided and abetted in their strategy of ignoring the crisis in our industry by elements in our industry, namely the likes of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) and NatRoad. These organisations have chosen to take the sides of wealthy clients and political mates over transport operators and drivers. They refuse to accept the deaths and injuries are too high and instead brief media that there is no problem.
In an industry which has the highest number of workplace deaths, is it acceptable for employer groups to put out public statements challenging the seriousness of the issue? Drivers are not willing to allow their problems to be ignored in this way. They are fighting for their own survival, the survival of their mates and other road users, and for the survival of their industry.
THE RIGHT RATE
Convoys right across the national capitals on July 15 came out in force to tell the Federal Government loud and clear that they want wealthy clients to be held to account for low rates, that they want an end to the high death and injury toll, and that they want decent, sustainable jobs.
Owner-drivers, tippers, port operators, waste drivers, concrete truck drivers, couriers and van drivers made up the 300 workers from across the transport industry who took part in the convoys.
Melbourne ports driver Greg on the convoy said: “Drivers need to get paid the right rates to do their job. You need to be making enough money to pay yourself, and to service your vehicle. If you’re not making the money, you’re cutting corners or you’re working too long hours.”
Transport operators are also crying out for change because they too are feeling the pressure. As many as one in five admit to breaking safety rules just to meet the deadlines demanded from companies at the top of the supply chain.
What our industry needs is an enforceable – not voluntary – system applying to the entire industry to ensure wealthy clients provide fair tendering processes and contracts to transport operators. These clients must pay their fair share, they must pay invoices within 14 to 30 days, and they must be held to account when they breach standards.
This formula will work to lift industry pressures. Blaming drivers and trying cheap political stunts just won’t work.
Truly mature industry associations don’t fight against or belittle measures that will make a difference. It’s time for the ATA and NatRoad to get on board and help make our industry better.
The problems in our industry have been ignored for too long. This is killing people and killing jobs. Drivers are ramping up their actions, determined to see vital changes happen. To join their fight go to ww.saferates.org.au
Bottom: Part of the Sydney convoy protesting against industry pressure and unsafe rates
Below: Drivers from many areas of the trucking industry attended the July 15 protest convoys