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Issue #1728      April 27, 2016

Truck drivers, families of victims, take action

The Australian Trucking Association has refused to meet truck drivers and the families of truck crash victims after 100 protesters marched on a meeting of the association today.

“I came here to ask why the Australian Trucking Association is against fixing the problems in transport and why they campaigned against safe minimum rates for truck drivers. They wouldn’t even give us five minutes,” said Sue Posnakidis, whose brother John Posnakidis was killed in a truck crash five years ago.

The Association has consistently refused to back a solution to the crisis in trucking in which hundreds are killed in truck crashes every year. Truck drivers have the highest workplace deaths, suffer from chronic fatigue, stress, mental health problems and are among the highest numbers for suicide and bankruptcies.

“They deny there is any problem in transport, they oppose addressing the difficulties in my job and they oppose lifting the rates. And now they won’t even meet us to hear what we have to say,” said Roy Ballantyne, an owner driver who also tried to meet the ATA.

The drivers and families have said they will continue to fight to reinstate an independent body to examine pressures in transport which lead to deaths, following the government’s abolition of safe rates.

“The focus of the ATA is simple: money. They oppose addressing the problems transport operators and drivers face every day. Their mates in big business and government are backing them on this and playing politics with people’s lives,” Transport Workers’ Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said.

An opinion poll has shown a majority of people believe the Tribunal should be kept while just 12 percent say it should be abolished. The poll by Essential Media shows a majority of people support safe rates. Over 85 percent say the federal government needs to take action to make the trucking industry safer. Major clients which dictate transport contracts should be held accountable for their impact on road safety, said 65 percent of respondents.

The government’s own reports released recently show that road transport has the “highest fatality rates of any industry in Australia” with 12 times the average for all industries. The reports also show the link between road safety and the pay rates of drivers and that the Tribunal will reduce truck crashes by 28 percent.

Safety first

The TWU says owner-drivers should be paid for overtime work and when taking mandatory fatigue management rest breaks. The union has come out strongly in favour of a proposal to fix pay rates for owner-drivers, ahead of scheduled hearings that will help determine if the plan goes ahead.

Last year the union lodged a formal response to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s (RSRT) draft order on contractor pay, backing the move while pushing for higher rates and taking aim at its critics.

“There is nothing that has been put forward that could possibly suggest there is no need to take action to set appropriate enforceable rates for contractor drivers engaged in supplying supermarket chains or long distance operations,” the TWU’s submission said.

The TWU wants owner-drivers to receive overtime payments once they work in excess of 38 hours per week, similar to what employees receive. The submission claims the KPMG cost model used to determine the proposed rates did not factor this in, leading the TWU to argue for an almost double-figure increase in the proposed hourly payment.

“On the basis that contractor drivers should be compensated for their labour at least to the level of an employee driver, the labour cost component should incorporate an overtime provision. This would increase the hourly rate in the calculations by approximately 8 percent,” the TWU’s submission stated.

The TWU has refuted claims the RSRT’s plan will, if introduced, price owner-drivers out of the market and encourage companies to switch to employee drivers.

“The TWU does not believe that these concerns are genuine. The making of an RSRO [road safety remuneration order] based upon the Draft Order should not have any effect upon the competitive position of contractor drivers, particularly if combined with effective supply chain provisions to ensure appropriate enforcement,” its submission said.

“To the extent that it is suggested that hirers may choose to directly operate vehicles using employee drivers, this would only represent an attractive option if contractor drivers are currently being engaged in a manner that fails to create viable businesses for contractor drivers that at least ensure the driver is remunerated for the labour component of the work.”

Furthermore, the TWU says there is no evidence to argue mandatory rates will have a significant effect on areas reliant on the trucking industry or negatively impact the economy or the transport of freight.

“Nor is there any material rising above assertion that the making of an RSRO would affect the viability of business in the road transport industry,” the TWU submission said.

The submission supports the RSRT’s proposal to require payment for fatigue management breaks. The TWU argues that owner-drivers are required to take the breaks while completing a transport task so they should be paid for them.

“Fatigue breaks required to be taken by the National Heavy Vehicle Law or Regulations represent time during which a road transport driver is necessarily engaged in order to enable goods to be transported,” its submission said.

“If a road transport driver is engaged to transport goods which will require a period of seven and a half hours to complete, the driver must be provided with half an hour rest time in that period. That is, the time during which the driver is necessarily engaged to enable the goods to be transported is eight hours.”

“The TWU submits that there is merit in providing for predetermined increases over a period into the future in order to provide certainty and clarity for hirers and contractor drivers,” it says. The tribunal recommended introducing minimum payments for owner-drivers on January 1 this year.

The TWU says owner-drivers currently are not able to make enough money to cover the costs of running their business and support their families.

Hence they are at risk of death and injury on the roads because of the pressure to skip breaks, speed, drive for longer with over-loaded vehicles in a stressed and tired state – all to meet unrealistic deadlines. It says the ruling on safe minimum rates is a key way to help stop this deadly cycle.

Next article – The ABCC Mark II – Gestapo industrial relations laws

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