Industry groups avoid tackling the fact that wealthy clients are squeezing the life out of road transport
IT’S BEEN TWO MONTHS since Chris Kurz and Wayne Garde died in far north Queensland in a horrific crash involving trucks from Blenners Transport. The families, friends and communities of both drivers are no doubt only beginning to pick up the pieces after the tragedy. But two months later there is still no information as to what happened or what caused the crash.
To reiterate the facts: this was one of the worst crashes in the region for some time and involved a company that was under intense investigation for several years.
We wrote to the Queensland Police, the department and minister of Transport and Main Roads, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) and Queensland Workplace Health and Safety, asking what investigations had taken place and if the company was under the spotlight.
We have had few answers. The police say they are investigating and will pass the report on to the coroner. So if we are lucky we may have a coronial inquiry into the matter within the next year, which might detail what happened. Justice delayed is justice denied.
The NHVR and Queensland Workplace Health and Safety say they too are investigating but that the police are taking the lead.
Meanwhile, Blenners remains an accredited member of the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) and the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) TruckSafe.
When we asked, the ATA declined to say whether it had ever suspended Blenners’ accreditation during its years of investigation, citing “commercial in confidence”.
Surely a suspension pending the outcome of the police investigation into the crash should be warranted?
It is interesting to remember that the ATA was very vocal about calling for the NHVR accreditation scheme to be wound up after fatal crashes just a few years ago involving transport operators with NHVAS accreditation, including the Mona Vale crash of a Cootes oil tanker.
Are there not similar questions to be answered now over TruckSafe following the Blenners fatal crash?
UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD
This devastating incident underlines what has been going on for decades in our industry – and why it is so hard to make things better. Industry lobby groups like the ATA have been protecting companies that break the rules and rip drivers off. They even give them a TruckSafe badge to make it look like they care about safety when really this just forces reputable companies to try desperately to compete on what is anything but a level playing field.
The ATA, and its offshoot NatRoad, are all about light-touch voluntary codes and industry apple-pie wish-lists. They fight any reforms that can bring about real change in the industry, aiding transport operators which steal from their drivers, increase safety risks on our roads and make running a sustainable and safe business very difficult.
These industry groups engage in shadow boxing, taking on issues and fights without tackling the real problem: the fact that transport is having the life squeezed out of it by wealthy clients at the top.
A perfect example was highlighted on these pages last month. The ATA criticism of increased toll charges is misguided given this has always been an issue when governments privatise our roads – instead why is the ATA not making sure that clients pay for the tolls? Surely this is the role of the industry lobby group?
Of course the backdrop to this is the fact that the ATA opposed the road safety watchdog, which was starting to ensure that clients paid for tolls, through orders making clients accountable for full cost recovery.
At every turn we see the top of the transport supply chain being let off the hook while the most vulnerable – the drivers – are under attack. NatRoad was exposed recently over raising a “red flag” to its members over new rules that allow casual drivers to request to be made permanent after 12 months, urging its members to “review the work patterns and length of service of all casual employees”.
NatRoad told its members to deny drivers a basic right: job security.
The law has been changed – for all casual workers – so that those who want to be made permanent can have assurances on income and working hours. But equally it is important to note that drivers still have the right to remain as casual employees if they want.
This statement from NatRoad further reinforces the point that the lobby group is not interested in benefiting the transport industry or improving the lives of those working in it, especially drivers. The group, along with the ATA, attacked the best chance for owner-drivers to get to get a fair go. NatRoad has consistently lobbied for reduced rates and conditions in transport awards for employees.
Both the ATA and NatRoad are made up of politically motivated lobbyists who have no interest in developing a sustainable and fair transport industry. In this they are doing their members, everyone in the transport industry and all road users a gross disservice.
We now have too many examples, some tragic, of how our industry is being failed by the noisy lobbyists who are simply not serving the interests of the industry. It is time for these groups to sign up to working for a fairer, safer industry and put aside the nonsense talk and topics that act as a smoke screen for the crisis we are in.
“Our industry is being failed by the noisy lobbyists.”