We need significant reform

In recent weeks, the Australian public has been confronted with overflowing rubbish bins and piling waste across NSW and in the ACT due to the recent worker-led strikes at Cleanaway. 

This has revealed some of the many struggles that transport workers face across Australia. The action was driven by worker demands for better conditions, job security, and fair pay, highlighting the need for reform in the transport industry. 

Transport is one of the most critical industries in Australia, with essential workers transporting goods and people across the country every day. 

Yet, the recent strikes at Cleanaway have exposed the harsh realities that many transport workers face, such as job insecurity, unfair pay, and unsafe working conditions. 

It’s clear that we need significant reform to ensure a safer and more sustainable future for all.

One of the big issues transport workers face is the pressure to work longer hours without overtime pay. This can lead to fatigue, which is a significant factor in truck-related accidents. 

In fact, transport is Australia’s deadliest industry, and has some of the highest rates of injuries, chronic health conditions and insolvencies in the country. It’s unacceptable that over 70 people have already lost their lives in truck-related incidents this year, with 22 of them being truck drivers [as at April 18].

The Cleanaway action has brought this issue to the forefront, with workers demanding better conditions, job security, and fair pay. But it’s not just Cleanaway workers who are struggling. 

Across the transport industry, workers are facing significant challenges. Many are forced to work long hours for low pay, with little job security or protection. 

Within the supply chain, wealthy clients push margins as far as they can, and only sell contracts to the lowest bidder. This means that transport operators are forced to cut corners, resulting in Australians being killed in preventable truck crashes, and sending these transport companies broke. 

This year, we saw the collapse of Scott’s Refrigerated Logistics, of Rivet Mining Services in WA and Neway due to these unsustainable contracting arrangements

This is a growing concern, and we are also seeing the emergence of gig work threaten to erode the minimum standards that the industry has fought so hard to establish.

As gig work continues to go unchecked with very minimal regulation or monitoring, they continue to push for a race to the bottom, with no minimum floor as to how low they can go. 

The recent survey by the McKell Institute, TWU, and TEACHO of over 1000 gig workers shows that 66 per cent of full-time gig workers earn under minimum wage, 56 per cent feel pressured to rush or take risks to earn enough money or avoid getting kicked off the app, and the more hours they work, the less their hourly pay ends up being. 

This is not flexibility, and it won’t be until minimum standards are established.

We cannot allow the crisis which the transport industry finds itself in to continue, workers have had enough. 

The federal government committed last year to empowering the Fair Work Commission to set enforceable standards in transport. What we need now is for federal parliament to urgently back in those reforms. They can’t wait.

We need to prioritise the welfare of transport workers and the safety of all Australians. By raising minimum standards industry-wide, we can create a fairer, safer, and more sustainable industry for all.

  • Richard Olsen is TWU NSW/QLD state secretary

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