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‘I was awake for 13 days straight’: Former truckie says minimum standards are a lifeline

Former truckie Robert Ireland fought back tears as he told a parliamentary inquiry about the suicide of a friend and the devastating impact the job had placed on his own life.

Speaking at a Sydney hearing of the Senate committee examining Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke’s controversial Closing Loopholes bill in Sydney yesterday (October 3), Ireland told politicians that more deaths would be on their heads if they blocked legislation to give minimum standards to road transport workers.

“I would work without stopping Sunday through to Saturday,” Ireland said in his written statement.

“To stay awake on the road, I turned to methamphetamine. On Saturdays, I’d ply myself with alcohol to get some sleep.

“I’d drink 19 stubbies like it was water. I was surviving on about eight hours sleep a week.

“Once, I was awake for 13 days straight. On the last run, I convinced my brother-in-law to come with me because I knew I wouldn’t make it alone.”

On another frightening occassion, Ireland said he was convinced he’d run off the highway during a microsleep.

“After that, I would sit bolt upright in bed at night, grabbing for the gear stick. My wife told me I’d go straight back to sleep after, but she’d be lying awake for hours worrying.”

Ireland said that in his first business the pressure to breach fatigue rules was literally the difference between having work, or being let go.

“We were constantly pushed to do more, to overload, to miss breaks, not to record jobs in our logbooks to cover up the back-to-back runs we were doing.

“For about 12 years, I was forced to operate this way as a driver and an owner-driver, but I don’t know how I was functioning.”

Tragically, in 2003 a truckie mate took his own life, and he wasn’t the only one, recalled Ireland.

“That was enough for me. I got out and didn’t drive for a year.

“I returned to the industry as an employee. The first pay cheque I got, I asked if they’d accidentally overpaid me. The wages were more than I’d ever earned, including as an owner-driver.”

Ireland eventually got back on his feet and ran a fleet of 11 trucks with up to 50 subbies.

Because of his own harrowing experiences and scares, he was a stickler for safety, and was celebrated for putting his drivers first on industry magazine covers.

“I told my drivers to always pull over if they felt tired and I would deal with the customers. I said I’d sack them if they drove our tipper trucks after midnight, because I wanted to remove any incentive to stay up driving every night.

“The trucks were kitted out with air conditioning, and I maintained and washed them for the drivers. I made sure they could spend weekends with their families, not catching up on sleep or working on the trucks.

“This was important to me, because of my own past.”

In 2019, however, Ireland closed his business because it had become unsustainable.

“I went from making $400,000 profit to barely breaking even.

“I had bad injuries to my back and neck and the undercutting in the industry made it hard for the business to keep going without me doing any of the work myself.

“We would lose work because safe, quality service costs more.

“Minimum standards are a lifeline – we need this legislation. The pressures in transport haven’t gone anywhere – I just removed myself from them.”

The passage of the industrial relations reforms have been stalled by a Senate resolution to push back the reporting date of the inquiry in to the bill until next year.

The reasons include complaints about the size and complexity of the legislation, which also includes creating minimum pay and conditions for gig workers, strengthening rights for casuals and forcing companies to pay labour-hire workers the same rate as fulltime employers’ enterprise deals.

1 Comment

  1. I really hope and pray that the politicians read this story because my heart goes out to Robert. I hope he is in a good place psychologically as I know what it is like to keep losing money because every one undercuts rates and cartels wont let you in. A great story by you guys.

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