Standard Hours work diary reduction: hot topic at workshop

A reduction in maximum working hours for truckies on the Standard Hours work diary is expected to be a hot topic of debate in industry workshops held this month to discuss potential changes to fatigue management laws.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) tells Big Rigs that the online forums, which we’re told don’t include any truckies, will help inform the long-running revamp of the Heavy Vehicle National Law.

In conjunction with industry and jurisdiction, the NTC is hoping to develop simpler and easier fatigue management rules that get the right balance between safety and productivity, says Aaron de Rozario, NTC executive leader, regulatory reform.

“As part of this process, we are looking at international best practice and discussing what it would mean for Australia,” said de Rozario.

The NTC discussion centres around points such as:

  • More frequent breaks and how would this work?
  • Short breaks offering more flexibility
  • Fewer elements in the Standard Hours schedule
  • Exploring exceptional/unforeseen circumstances
  • Reducing the allowed time between long rest breaks
  • Reducing the allowed hours worked for the week

The NTC stressed, however, that the workshops are designed to flesh out ideas from industry stakeholders and the points discussed within, such as reducing Standard Hours, are a long way from becoming law.

“The PowerPoint document was designed to encourage discussion and feedback as part of this consultation,” adds de Rozario.

“It reflects work-in-progress and does not represent a final position.

“Discussions are ongoing. Talks will continue across the industry, including with drivers, to simplify the process.”

An extract from the NTC briefing paper obtained by Big Rigs.

Big Rigs approached operators in the field for feedback about these discussion points.

One of the two most contentious discussion topics for Lyndon Watson, CEO of Don Watson Transport, centred around the idea of reducing maximum working hours for truckies working on the Standard Hours fatigue system from 72 to 60 hours over a seven-day week.

“They’re effectively mandating that an owner-driver fleet move from a six-day to a five-day fleet because they need 12 hours to get from capital to capital,” said Watson.

“So, every one of those owner-drivers out there who are trying to make ends meet, I can’t see how they’re suddenly going to be able to reduce the capacity of their vehicles by nearly 20 per cent.

“I can only think in horror at the trouble the industry would see if the owner-driver network were decimated with this.”

Watson believes adopting ‘international best practice’ with fatigue management and shortening a truckie’s working day, isn’t going to work in Australia because of our unique geography and vast distances between the main centres.

In his own operation he says the 17-hour working day opportunity afforded to all drivers is ideal because they can complete the city-to-city freight task safely.

“It gives the drivers a chance to stop and have a rest if they’re tired.”

Watson believes it’s too dangerous to ask a driver to complete the same route in 14 hours.

“Putting that type of deadline on when the driver needs to start their next long break will simply motivate the drivers to lie about their fatigue and try and push through to get home.

“At the moment, they know they can just pull up for a power nap. They’ll still get in, but they can have a couple of hours of rest, and head into their destination fresh, and still be within the 17-hour ‘work opportunity’.

Watson said if the industry is to find more flexibility in fatigue management, the answer doesn’t lie in restricting the opportunity for the driver to have a break.

“In short, the cities aren’t getting any closer. Australia is stuck with the knowledge that the time it takes to move a truck from city to city is relatively fixed.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Trucking Association is consulting its members urgently about its future engagement with the HVNL review process, according to a scathing update by ATA chair David Smith.

“The review started in November 2018. The ATA and its members have spent hundreds of hours drafting submissions and engaging in meetings. But the review has not produced a single legislative amendment that could be introduced into parliament,” Smith said in the latest ATA weekly newsletter.

“Despite ministers’ commitment to simplify the HVNL and focus on productivity and safety, the NTC’s highest consultation priority with industry seems to be the operational details of fatigue management.

“The NTC’s proposal for the fatigue management general schedule would reduce the income of a typical local delivery driver by about $24,000 per year. It would make it impossible for general schedule drivers to operate between capital cities.

“Despite the catastrophic impact of the proposal on the industry’s productivity and the incomes of its workers, the NTC circulated this proposal for just one week of industry consultation.

“It is not good enough. The review has failed.”

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