TIME FOR CHANGE: Drivers are being tested to the limit with the pressure they face behind the wheel.
TIME FOR CHANGE: Drivers are being tested to the limit with the pressure they face behind the wheel.

A strong voice for our industry

AT LAST, another strong step forward for the workers in the transport industry. The announcement of a vote in the senate establishing an inquiry into the Australian road transport and freight industry.

You should still be angry though. According to former truck driver and current senator Glenn Sterle those in government did every- thing they could to stop this inquiry from getting up.

Government policies for our industry are inadequate.

We need enforceable legislation that means responsibility and account- ability exists at every level of the supply chain, all the way to the top - rather than just in the driver's seat.

Drivers are being tested to the limit with the pressure they face every time they get behind the wheel.

Government ministers responsible for our industry are looking to penalise drivers or keep them awake with electronics in the cabin.

Drivers wait hours in yards, rest areas are inadequate or full of caravans, training is limited or not available, employers are creating pressure that a driver cannot argue with, and deaths in our industry are merely road toll.

We know from previous federal inquiries that there is damning evidence of exploitation of those working or seeking to work in our industry. Truck drivers are professional drivers but are being exploited by companies who put profit before the lives and safety of all on the road.

We have an industry where wage theft from workers is becoming a business model. There are many companies the TWU has forced into a legal process to hand back income drivers earned, but did not receive.

Companies, for example, that pay their employees and demand cash back, to keep up the illusion of proper payment.

There are companies that work in major yards, yet make their workers have ABNs and pay expenses.

All the driver takes home is $80 for a full day's work along with dangerous overtime hours.

Even the industry knows we are in trouble. At a forum last month in Canberra, run by Senator Sterle, transport operators spoke about how rates from clients had forced them to the brink of insolvency.

They spoke of having to compete with operators who are forced to cut corners in safety, push their drivers and put trucks on the road with bald tyres and dodgy brakes.

The forum heard some horror stories from our industry: one person spoke of an operator which has underpaid drivers for several years. Another spoke of a client demanding payment terms of 150 days.

These are the impossible environments which our industry is forced to operate in and compete with.

Clients get wealthier because drivers work hard, but clients are obsessed with their bottom line, not the impact their practices have on members in the industry.

There are industry organisations which are aware of these problems yet their solutions which include voluntary codes and playing with the symptoms rather than addressing the causes of the industry crisis just won't cut it anymore.

To those organisations, employers, clients and government, I say this: Understand the value that drivers have to this industry, the value that drivers have to their families and you then understand that any solution needs a tough response including regulation with an ability to strictly enforce standards.

We can't expect to reduce truck crash deaths, deal with driver fatigue, take on wage theft, ensure workers are not exploited, encourage young drivers into our industry and ensure transport operators are paid on time without addressing the pressures behind these problems that come from inadequate government policy and from corporate greed.

The TWU will never stop fighting for fair working conditions and safe roads.

Big Rigs

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