22 October 2015

TRUCK drivers have urged the road safety watchdog to set safe minimum rates that cover the full cost of their work to help put an end to the deadly pressures in the transport industry.

Hearings open today at the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal in Melbourne with drivers describing the pressures on them to meet unrealistic deadlines, to speed, driver for longer than is allowed, to overload their trucks and skip rest periods.

This pressure leads to hundreds of deaths in truck-related crashes each year and is the reason why trucking is Australia’s deadliest job with drivers 15 times more likely to die than any other profession.

“Owner drivers are small businesses but with an average income of $29,000 many of us are living hand to mouth while struggling to juggle loan repayments on the truck, pay fuel, insurances and keep on top of maintenance,” said driver Frank Black.

“This leads to pressure which puts us and other road users at risk.”

“We’re not asking for huge payments but we need to be paid for the all the work we do,” he said.

The hearings follow a number of recent truck accidents and fatalities in NSW which has prompted a police operation in the state.

The Tribunal’s draft ruling set minimum rates that secure payment for time spent waiting and queuing at depots and distribution centres.

It states drivers must be paid for loading and unloading time and for the time it takes to clean, inspect, service and repair their trucks and trailers.

The draft ruling also says the wealthy retailers and manufacturers which use transport operators must be held account for pressures on drivers.

And the TWU blames the low cost contracts they give out saying they are at the heart of these pressures.

TWU National Assistant Secretary Michael Kaine said a ruling on minimum rates was vital to ensure accountability at the top of the transport chain.

“It’s not just truck drivers that agree that the watchdog is doing life saving work – responsible industry players like the Victorian Transport Association see that value as well.  We call on all participants to follow that lead.”

The road safety watchdog hearings come two years after the horror crash at Mona Vale when two people were killed after an oil tanker burst into flames.

The brakes on the tanker were found to be faulty and a national audit of Cootes, the company which owned the truck, found hundreds of defects prompting the fleet to be grounded.

The head of compliance operations at the RMS said afterwards that because of “tight margins … the company’s probably been worn down to the bone”.

Employers, governments and employee groups at the United Nations labour body last week backed a plan based on the Australian Safe Rates model to tackle the root causes of the high global death toll in trucking.

  • Numerous academic studies have established the link between safety and rates of pay including the National Transport Commission’s report on Remuneration and Safety in the Australian Heavy Vehicle Industry (2008) which said practices by the retail industry affecting road transport “can play a direct and significant role in causing hazardous practices”. It adds: “There is solid survey evidence linking payment levels and systems to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use”.

A Safe Work Australia report in July 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.

The Wesfarmers/Coles annual results in August showed

  • Wesfarmers profits increased by over 60% to $2.44 billion
  • Coles’ revenues were up 2% to $38 billion
  • Freight costs down by $13 million at a time when revenue growth is up 3.8%.
  • 29% of owner drivers are underpaid in the current remuneration system
  • $29,000 average owner driver income
  • The RSRT has the power to inquire into practices in the road transport industry, including holding major clients to account for how their business practices affect safety throughout the supply chain
  • It began operating in July 2012

The RSRT is able to make orders on:

  • Minimum remuneration for employee drivers and owner-drivers
  • Industry practices for loading and unloading vehicles, waiting times, working hours, load limits, payment methods and payment periods
  • Ways of reducing or removing remuneration-related incentives, pressures and practices that contribute to unsafe work practices.
  • So far it has begun inquiries into five sectors: retail and long distance; oil, fuel and gas; cash-in-transit; waste; and port and wharf sector.
  • It has made an important order requiring truck drivers to be paid within 30 days and has issued a draft ruling setting down minimum safe rates for drivers in retails and long-distance

Extracted in full from Big Rigs.