The Guardian • Issue #1950

Truckies pushed to the curb: no respect for our essential workers

  • by B A Ford
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1950

At 2 am on Thursday the 11th of February there was a crash between three trucks at the SA-Victorian border two hours after the SA government shut its border to Victoria. One of the trucks was carrying chemicals that caused the crash to be fiery.

The crash caused one death, while two other drivers were taken to hospital. This casualty marked Victoria’s second workplace death and came four days after the Transport Workers Union (TWU) announced that there had already been four truck driver deaths across the country so far in 2021.

The SA-Victorian border was understaffed and under prepared with only four officials advising traffic and supervising the border. This meant the traffic backed up for kilometres to the closest town Kaniva, twenty-five kilometres away from the border. Both cars and trucks were backed up without trucks prioritised, and a driver, unaware of the changed road conditions, crashed.

In their statement on the death, the TWU called for a “national plan on border closures” to avoid confusion between states, and a plan to prioritised truck drivers with truck lanes set up before border closure to allow their safe passage while carrying out essential work.

TWU Vic/Tas Secretary John Berger said that “Fatigue is a major killer in our industry and it is abhorrent that drivers are being forced to work fatigued all because the federal government won’t put in place clear guidelines on border closures.”

In 2019, a total of fifty-three truck drivers died making it the deadliest industry in Australia, an increase of sixty-seven per cent when compared to 2018 with many of these deaths linked to fatigue, according to National Transport Insurance.

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was established in 2012 under the Labor government to address the conditions of the road transport industry. A review of the tribunal in 2016 showed that the then current Road Safety Remuneration Order 2014 would see a twenty-eight per cent reduction of truck crashes. However, this tribunal was repealed in April 2016, despite there being twenty-five truck related deaths in March 2016, according to TWU.

Currently, we wait for the report from the senate inquiry into the “importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry.” This report, which was once due for April 2020, has been pushed back again until the 23rd of June 2021. The inquiry investigates minimum working standards for road transport, the social and economic impacts of road injuries, trauma and death, the current education and training for road transport, the current regulations of the road transport industry, and so on. In their article “Truckies to Tell Senate Inquiry of Horror Crash Deaths and Armed Hold Ups” published in early February, the TWU stated that since the tribunal “841 people have died in truck crashes including 182 truck drivers.”

This year, Monash University released a study involving 1400 truck drivers that examined the conditions for drivers and how it relates to their health. The study found that 50 per cent of those surveyed worked 41-60 hours per week, 37.5 per cent worked over 60 hours per week, 13 per cent had a crash in the past year, and over 70 per cent have a near miss once a week. Over 70 per cent of these drivers also experience chronic health issues and almost a third have multiple chronic health conditions.

The ruling class won’t admit the truth that better working conditions are needed to save lives of workers and the community. They are aware that bosses can pressure drivers to forge their work diaries, drivers can skip maintenance checks before driving to save time, and will ignore their fatigue or other health issues that may impede their driving just to make sure they retain their work and financial security. It is important to understand that this is not individual drivers’ fault, but the fault of the system that puts the extraction of profit over the safety of all of us.

The Communist Party expresses our condolences to the friends and family of the drivers involved in this crash. We also express our solidarity with all road transport drivers fighting for improved working conditions, and the right to come home at the end of their shift.

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