Con­ve­nient façade

In­dus­try groups avoid tack­ling the fact that wealthy clients are squeez­ing the life out of road trans­port

Owner Driver - - Twu - Michael Kaine

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.”

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