Truckies hard life set to get better

Yasmin Scrivener

Truck drivers travel far and wide to ensure our goods are delivered safely; without them you probably wouldn’t have had your bowl of cereal or Vegemite on toast for breakfast this morning.

But what’s in it for them?

A truck driver can go for long periods at a time without the support of their family and friends, leaving the government to pick up the slack in ensuring our truck drivers are protected out on the road.

The Australian Government has promised to deliver improved safety and productivity outcomes for the heavy vehicle industry and other road users with the introduction of the Safe Rates Legislation on March 20 2012.

This piece of legislation underpins the Road Safety Remuneration Bill introduced by the Federal Government in November 2011.

The implementation of the Safe Rates Legislation and the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is set to be in full swing by July 1.

Safe Rates is set to substantially reduce the amount of deaths from heavy vehicle accidents as well as save taxpayers from forking up almost $3 billion dollars each year in compensation.

Based on figures released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the truck driving sector continues to have the highest incidents of fatal injuries with 25 deaths per 100,000 workers.

The fatality rate is 10 times the Australian industry average with 330 lives lost each year.

There is no doubt that the Road Transport industry is one of Australia’s most dangerous to work for.

Tony Sheldon, National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union has outlined that “each road death costs $1.7 million and each injury in an incident costs $408,000. The total cost has been independently valued at more than $2.7 billion each year.

“We have had more than 20 years of commissions, coroner’s reports and inquiries which have highlighted time and again the link between the transport safety crises and economic factors.

“Offering drivers fair working conditions and safe rates will substantially reduce this figure.” Mr Sheldon said.

Families of truck drivers across Australia lead the Transport Workers Union in an intensive campaign for over 20 years to pass the legislation, which will ensure higher rates of pay and safer roads for truckies.

The legislation aims to reduce the economic incentives for drivers to make unrealistic deadlines, cut corners on safety and maintenance, or take illicit substances to keep them awake to reach destinations on time.

Trevor Longhurst, a truck driver from Orange and a devoted member of the Transporters Worker Union said, “This legislation will make a real difference to truckies across Australia, if major companies comply with the legislation, the economic incentives to make deadlines will no longer exist and we will no longer feel the pressure to make them.”

Mr Sheldon has identified this kind of influence from major trucking companies has resorted in truckies turning to illicit stimulants.

Recent police data shows that one in eleven truck drivers tested positive to using drugs while driving.

The majority of illegal drugs found in the systems of drivers are stimulants like amphetamines and speed, aimed at combating effects of drowsiness caused by long haul driving.

 “They are demanding greater capabilities from their workers pushing them beyond their limits with longer hours and heavier loads,” Mr Sheldon said.

“Each and every day I speak to truck drivers who tell me of the pressures from clients to meet dangerous deadlines”

Greg Burrell has been a truck driver for more than 20 years, and although he has never taken drugs he does admit to falling asleep behind the wheel previously and believes there needs to be something done to prevent tiredness without truck drivers resorting to illegal stimulants.

“There needs to be a better monitoring system and some provisions need to be put into place, maybe to stop driving past a certain hour at night time because vision is never great and of course it is very easy to get tired.”

“The answer seems simple: why don’t truckies just stop once they become tired?”

Blogger from Diary of a Truck Driver Matt Dockerty tends to disagree, saying the problems are a lot more complicated then we think.

“Trucks break down, roads get flooded and cars fall over in front of you and sometimes you just get tired,” he said.

Mr Dockerty believes that the government continues to waste more time and money into installing devices like Safe-T-Cam to help manage fatigue, when perhaps money should be spent elsewhere.

Mr Sheldon reassures that the Safe Rates Legislation will compensate by increasing the current low rate of pay, which has lead many truck drivers to make risky decisions.

“Safe rates will ensure that employee-drivers are not pressured by major clients to meet implausible and dangerous delivery schedules and to work long unsustainable hours to make up for poor pay,” Mr Sheldon says.

“Drivers don’t want to be millionaires; like every Australian they deserve a fair wage for a fair day’s work.”

The Transporters Workers Union has had to face their fair share of harsh critics with the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Logistics Council and the NSW branch of the Australian Trucking Association all opposing the Safe Rates Legislation.  

They dispute a link between pay and safety and argue governments and regulators should instead focus education and training, enforcing chain of responsibility law and improving roads.

Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Warren Truss has labeled the link between pay and safety as “a spurious argument at best” and has demanded for any empirical and independent evidence that increasing pay rates for truck drivers will improve road safety.

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese, has fought back at these allegations in saying, “The link between exploitation and safety for drivers has been well established through independent research as well as bipartisan Parliamentary inquiries.”

He believes that the government should be proud of the fact that parliament are asking for people to be paid a decent wage.

Previous governments have taken a different path in finding a solution to the ongoing problems within the transport industry.

The Howard government chose to provide $1.8 billion dollars to upgrade roads and over $16.8 billion dollars to further establish land transport motorways and interchanges across the state.

Truck driver Bill Waters is from Dubbo and stands by the Gillard government’s efforts in better protecting truck drivers – however, he believes that “the Howard government took a different approach by making our roads better and safer, which definately needs to be continued.”

The Federal Government stand by their decision to vote in the Road Safety Remuneration Bill as are The Transporters Workers Union who are celebrating this landmark in bill making.

Mr Sheldon has said that the legislation will ultimately, “Make the roads that all Australians travel on safer, ensure fairer pay and conditions for truckies and finally begin to hold major retailers to account for the safe transportation of their goods.”

“We have campaigned side by side with truckies, transport companies, committed politicians, families of people who were killed or injured in truck accidents and communities across Australia for this legislation.”

The transport industry ensures that mangoes from Bowen can be enjoyed in Perth and that Tasmanian cheese can be savored in Darwin.

It is essential to maintain the livelihood of truck drivers if we want Australia to continue as a resourceful country.

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