NatRoad president Allan Thornley has met with Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety Senator Sterle. Discussions encompassed the abolished Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, the industry’s payment terms and working together to get more young people into the road transport industry. Allan Thornley said: “It’s critical that political parties of all colours support the toughening of chain of responsibility laws. We can never have another RSRT, which was ill conceived. Any future regulation in this space needs careful consideration to achieve bipartisan political and industry support. “Senator Sterle was keen that the industry work with him and other members of the Australian Labor Party to change the face of our regulation,” said Mr Thornley. Senator Sterle said: “I will always be a champion for the transport industry. The RSRT as a model didn’t work. We won’t rush into a new model that doesn’t work. I’m going to bring in safe rates, I’m going to do this and I’m going to do it properly,” he said. Discussion encompassed a number of areas where NatRoad and Senator Sterle were in agreement. These matters included:
Making 30 day payments a mandated minimum.
Introducing a trade recognised skill of heavy vehicle driving.
Establishing a plan to get more young people to join the industry and increasing the industry’s diversity.
Setting up a working group to look at any mandated rates scheme before a new system is put in place.
Allan Thornley said: “We also reached agreement on the fact that enforcement of the law is critical. The industry must hold regulators to account. Parties must know that enforcement up the chain is likely and therefore regulators must allocate enough resources to enforcing the new CoR laws and any new regulation. Truck drivers should be able to report breaches of laws that impact on their safety without adverse consequences. “We want to continue to engage with dedicated industry supporters like Senator Sterle,” Mr Thornley concluded. Right direction, wrong approach: union TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said the owners’ organisation could deliver many solutions to the industry but instead keeps talking about what it opposes. “NatRoad says that it wants 30-day payments mandated. Then it must explain to its members and the wider industry why it opposed a system that was delivering this for owner drivers and that was examining an application from the TWU to extend this guarantee to all transport operators. Transport operators would have 30-day payments by now, instead of remaining at the mercy of big corporations that refuse to pay for work carried out for up to 120 days. “Since the RSRT has been pulled down nothing has been achieved by the likes of NatRoad to improve our industry. There has been no increase in rates and unpaid work, waiting time and financial insecurity are still major problems. Transport operators are still being forced into insolvency at higher rates than most other industries because the margins are so tight. In the 2017 financial year, 469 companies entered into external administration in the transport, postal and warehousing industries. Of those, 65% were businesses that employed fewer than five employees. The main reason for the insolvencies was inadequate cash flow. “Companies and their clients still aren’t held to account when drivers get pressured into gruelling work practices. In fact, clients have in the last two years been given a green light to heap the pressure on even more. Aldi has been emboldened to take the union to the Federal Court to try and stop drivers speaking out about rates and conditions in their supply chain. “Of course the slaughter is also still continuing. Deaths from truck crashes are still far too high while truck drivers are still more likely to be killed at work than any other profession. “The push for Safe Rates is simply about fairness. “It says transport operators and drivers have the right to earn a living without being pushed into bankruptcy by wealthy companies at the top which pay their chief executives millions. It says drivers have the right to be paid for all the work they do and to be safe in their jobs. It says all road users have the right not to be killed and injured on the roads because safety got cut because of costs. It says the wealthy companies at the top can no longer escape the responsibility of their effects on our industry.”
The TWU says hundreds of truck drivers and their supporters protested on an April weekend in all major capitals as a new survey shows 93% of drivers want to see changes to make transport safer and less pressured. Drivers sat on Oxford Street in Sydney and marched in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth in a stark message to the Federal Government, which shut down a road safety watchdog two years ago, “allowing wealthy retailers like Aldi to financially squeeze transport”, the TWU said. The driver survey shows almost 93% of drivers also say pressure on them is continuing or increasing, with drivers listing the financial squeeze from major supermarkets and manufacturers, bad roads, unsafe truck stops and unrealistic deadlines major sources of pressure. Over 1,000 drivers responded to the survey, which was conducted following police blitzes on trucks after a spate of crashes. The survey comes two years after the Federal Government shut down the watchdog that was investigating safety in trucking and holding major companies to account for low cost contracts which means their goods cannot be delivered safely. “Two years ago the Federal Government scrapped scrutiny and accountability on the major manufacturers and retailers like Aldi over poor rates in their supply chains. This financial pressure means that trucks are not being maintained and drivers are being pushed to speed, drive long hours and skip mandatory rest breaks. This is devastating families across Australia because of truck crashes and it means drivers are copping all the blame for problems in the industry,” TWU acting national secretary Michael Kaine said. “The only response from the Federal Government to the spike in deaths has been to increase the number of speed cameras to catch drivers and to have police fine them over breaches. This will not solve the problems in the industry and it will not cut the number of crashes. Unless wealthy clients are held to account for low cost contracts the problem in this industry will only worsen,” Mr Kaine added. Industry not convinced The TWU’s traditional enemies the (large) industry body the Australian Logistics Council and the transport owners’ Australian Trucking Association (ATA) have predictably come out against the idea of reinstating the RSRT. The ATA has outright dismissed calls for its reinstatement, ATA chairman Geoff Crouch saying the TWU claims there has been 92 per cent increase in truck crashes in NSW since the watchdog was shut down, but there is no correlation between the two. “In 2017, the number of deaths in NSW from crashes involving articulated trucks like semitrailers increased dramatically but we know most of the increase in deaths was in multi-vehicle crashes, 80 per cent of which were not the fault of the truck driver,” Mr Crouch said. “In the same period, no other states or territories experienced an increase in fatal crashes involving articulated trucks, with the majority seeing significant decreases. “Transport owners and operators have told us the devastating impact of the RSRT included financial hardship, increased debt, reduced equipment values, widespread uncertainty and significant stress on families, relationships and mental health,” Mr Crouch said. “The ATA backs recent comments from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry that say reinstating the RSRT is a backwards step. The transport industry is essential to the fabric that holds the Australian economy together and they deserve better. Similarly, the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) said suggestions that the former Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) should be reconstituted within the Fair Work Commission are part of a continuing industrial campaign that will do nothing to improve heavy vehicle safety. “Improving heavy vehicle safety is an enormously important national objective – and it should not be conflated with a continuing industrial campaign within some sections of the industry,” said ALC managing director Michael Kilgariff. “ALC continues to believe that the most effective way to enhance safety in the heavy vehicle industry is by achieving greater compliance with, and enforcement of, the Chain of Responsibility (CoR) provisions in the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).” “These CoR provisions will be significantly strengthened and enhanced by changes due to come into effect later this year, and our focus should be on ensuring compliance with those changes. That is why ALC has been working in partnership with the Australian Trucking Association for the past year to develop an industry-wide Master Code for heavy vehicle safety, capable of becoming a registered industry code of practice under the HVNL,” Mr Kilgariff noted.
The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) is warning that a huge increase in port access fees by DP World Australia and Hutchinson will result in higher injury and fatality rates in trucking and the loss of jobs. The Union has called for ship owners to bear the costs, as clients at the top of the supply chain. The fees at Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane ports will heap further financial stress on transport where margins are already tight. The price hike in Melbourne will go from $3.45 to $32.50 per container; in Sydney a new charge of $21.16 will apply for the first time; while in Brisbane fees will go up 30 per cent. Drivers will come under even more pressure to work long hours, speed and skip mandatory rest breaks while vital maintenance on vehicles will get delayed, the Union wrote in a press statement. “We are already seeing an increase in deaths and injuries at the moment – last year one out of every three workers killed was a transport worker while deaths from rigid and articulated trucks went up,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon. “We do not need more pressure on transport, we need accountability among the clients which are ultimately responsible for safety in the supply chain.” The TWU also criticised the imbalance in payment terms for trucking companies – DP World insists on payment within seven days while trucking business can wait up to 120 days for payment. “The Federal Government abolished payment terms for truck drivers when it tore down the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal last year. Its silence is deafening on this burden which is now being placed on drivers at the ports,” said Sheldon. The TWU fears the price hike will put thousands of owner-drivers out of business. “These small trucking businesses are already subsisting on tight margins and they have among the highest rates of bankruptcies for any businesses. This fee should not be passed on to those at the bottom of the supply chain,” Sheldon added. The TWU supports industry calls for the ACCC to investigate the fees. “The TWU will support any owner-drivers taking direct action against the ports over the coming weeks in a similar way to the port blockades of the 1980s and 1990s. We will support drivers standing up to this level of extortion,” Sheldon added.