The Transport Workers’ Union has criticised the Australian Trucking Association over calls to hold drivers responsible for fatigue, while letting wealthy retailers and manufacturers off the hook for poor rates and unrealistic deadlines which force drivers to work long hours.
The Union warns that the stricter rules for drivers the ATA is seeking will not lead to a reduction in truck crashes and will only make drivers suffer.
“No driver wants to drive long hours and skip breaks causing them to drive tired. They do it because they or the transport operator employing them are trying to make enough money to meet their costs and put food on the table. The source of this pressure is the low cost contracts from wealthy clients which put an impossible financial squeeze on transport. The ATA is yet again showing its disregard for truck drivers by holding them entirely responsible for the crisis in the industry,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.
The ATA recommendations are being made in relation to chain of responsibility rules under the Queensland government’s new Heavy Vehicle Regulator Law.
Chain of responsibility rules do not tackle the economic pressure which force drivers and transport operators to take risks, rather they focus on prosecuting clients and transport operators after a truck crash has taken place. There have been few prosecutions of clients resulting in paltry fines under chain of responsibility rules following serious truck crashes involving deaths.
“The ATA and the rest of the transport industry needs to get behind a real solution to safety risks, a solution that tackles the root causes of fatigue, overloaded vehicles, unmaintained vehicles and inadequate load restraints. Rather than focusing on prosecuting these breaches when people are killed we need a system which holds clients accountable for the low cost transport contracts which cause the problems,” said Sheldon.
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1. Safe Rates
In April the Federal Government abolished a system backing safe rates that was holding wealthy clients such as retailers, banks, oil companies and ports to account for low cost contracts, which do not allow their goods to be delivered safely. This was despite the Government’s own reports showing a link between road safety and the pay rates of drivers and that the safe rates system would reduce truck crashes by 28%*. An Order delivering safe rates for the first time was in operation for just two weeks before the entire system was torn down.
2. Evidence of pressure
A Safe Work Australia report in July 2015 showed:
· 31% of employers say workers ignore safety rules to get the job done
· 20% accept dangerous behaviour, compared to less than 2% in other industries.
· 20% of transport industry employers break safety rules to meet deadlines – this compares with just 6% of employers in other industries.
3. Low pay
Many owner drivers are not making enough to get by as it is with average income of just under $29,500 and $29% of them underpaid (this is based on an analysis by PriceWaterhouseCoopers of the 2006 census which was included in the regulatory impact statement for the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011). Transport companies are consistently in the top five industries for insolvency, with the vast majority of them small firms with five or less full-time employees.
According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, transport operators have one of the highest rates of insolvencies of any industry and small firms of five full time employees or less are the most likely to go bankrupt. In the financial year to June 2015 there were 275 insolvencies among these small operators. In the financial year before that there were 548 insolvencies. The main reason for the insolvencies was inadequate cash flow.
Suicide is currently rampant among truck drivers. A study by Deakin University showed 323 truck drivers committed suicide between 2001 and 2010. (Suicide among male road and rail drivers in Australia: a retrospective mortality study). An analysis by the Victorian coroner’s court showing truck drivers had the highest number of suicides out of any other profession, with 53 drivers taking their own lives between 2008 to 2014.
6. The Liberal Party and its financial donors
The Liberal National Party receives billions of dollars in donations from retailers, banks and oil companies – which were all in line to be held to account for safety and poor rates in trucking by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. A financial link of $7 million exists between the Liberal National Party and Wesfarmers, the major retailer which opposes the Tribunal. Of this there is a $5.3 million link in the form of dividends drawn down from Wesfarmers shares owned by the Cormack Foundation, an associated entity of the Liberal Party. A further $1.7 million in political donations was given by Wesfarmers and Coles to the Liberal and National parties.
* PricewaterhouseCoopers “Review of the Road Safety Remuneration System Final Report January 2016” (PWC Review 2016 – published by the Commonwealth Department of Employment on 1 April, 2016)
Jaguar Consulting Pty Ltd “Review of the Road Safety Remuneration System 16 April, 2014 (Jaguar Consulting 2014 – published by the Commonwealth Department of Employment on 1 April, 2016)