After years of inaction, our industry needs a shake up

Trucking is the lifeblood of the country. Yet despite the crucial role truck drivers play in every part of our economy, years of inaction and unchecked commercial power at the top of supply chains has year on year kept transport in the top spot as Australia’s deadliest industry. 

On average, from 2017 to 2022, 28.4 per cent of all workers killed in Australia worked in transport. That is a horrific statistic, made worse by the knowledge that many of those fatalities could have been prevented if deadly pressures in the industry had been addressed.

So far this year, 34 people have been killed in truck crashes, including eight truck drivers. At the time of writing, that is at least one a week. A worker killed in their workplace every week is completely unacceptable, especially when many of those crashes are avoidable.

It was reported recently that in Victoria, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator issued over 1000 fatigue breaches in 2022. 

That is shocking, but not surprising. We know truck drivers are pressured to drive tired – the important question is: why? 

No truck driver chooses to be on the road too long, to skip rest breaks or falsify logbooks. This happens as a result of commercial pressure and unrealistic deadlines. It happens because operators and owner drivers fear losing contracts, and employed drivers fear the loss of their job.  

When the status quo is killing people at alarming rates, just imagine the destruction of the Grattan Institute’s recent proposal to smash the fuel tax credit lifeline. 

We sprung into action the moment we saw this report to ensure the government knew that it was dangerous and shortsighted. 

As the wealthy at the helm of supply chains squeeze transport contracts, they have already factored in the fuel tax credit scheme. These wealthy retailers, manufacturers and oil companies profit from the razor-thin margins of operators and drivers.  

Attacking fuel tax credits only hurts those already under great financial pressure to cut corners in safety to make ends meet.   

It came as a great relief to TWU members to see the federal government take up our call to leave the fuel tax credit scheme in place, in full.  

The federal government will not be tampering with the credit scheme. 

But this is not about a government choosing not to act or take notice of our industry. This is a government choosing to act in the right way – following years of in-depth consultation with the industry. 

After a decade of inaction from the former government, we now have a federal government which has committed to act in the right way. 

The commitment to set fair, safe and sustainable standards in transport is about tackling the commercial supply chain pressures that leave operators and drivers scrambling to make ends meet. It’s about making sure the wealthy owners of freight are paying their fair share.

These are changes that will make a real difference. They will save lives and businesses. They will put a stop to unfair competition from the likes of Amazon Flex and other gig models which avoid rights like minimum wage to take work off traditional operators and owner drivers. 

Our industry needs a shake up, because the status quo is a complete power imbalance which is killing people and driving small businesses into insolvency. It’s time for reform, while we still have an industry to salvage.

  • Richard Olsen is TWU NSW/QLD state secretary

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