Our one wish for Christmas: every truckie gets home safely

Sadly, two more truck drivers have been lost while doing their jobs in recent days.

The first of those tragedies occurred in Sydney’s southwest at the weekend when a 58-year-old crashed into three parked cars after what is believed to be a medical episode.

Then, just this week in Geelong, a driver was killed in a collision with a regional passenger train.

Our sincerest condolences to all family, friends and colleagues.

That’s a sentence we’ve been writing all too often lately – and like you, I wish it would stop.

If there has been a darker time on our roads for truckies, this writer isn’t aware of it.

Not even targeted policing, or state-of-the-art technology seems to be arresting the slide.

The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) says much of the blame for this year’s record road toll is due to drivers being pushed too hard and/or are so poorly paid, they’re cutting corners in order to keep their jobs and to make ends meet.

The Closing the Loopholes Bill and the ensuing new version of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, with a new set of rules and regulations governed by the Fair Work Commission, is being touted as the answer.

But will it really be the magic bullet?

We’re told that proposed laws would close a loophole allowing companies to negotiate a rate of pay with workers then bring in labour hire and pay them less.

Yet business groups and the opposition argue it will add undue costs to businesses and make operations less flexible.

The convoluted bill is already so divisive it’s been stalled for more consultation, and if you were a betting man, or woman, you wouldn’t rate its chances of surviving a change of government at the next general election.

We’re still waiting for someone to explain to us exactly what it all might mean for you because I don’t think they really know themselves.

So, what are our federal and state transport ministers doing to avert this crisis?

You might be curious to know that they all got together in Hobart on December 6 to discuss the nation’s major transport issues, as they do every quarter.

They “noted their concern” at the increasing national overall road toll – truckies were not singled out – and agreed that road safety ministers should “engage” with police ministers to look at ways to stem the rising toll.

But all that would happen “as soon as practical” in 2024.

The only specific industry mention related to a briefing by the National Transport Commission (NTC) on the package of amendments to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) and regulations.

To deliver on the “ambition” of the reforms agreed to in 2022, the cohort of ministers said it will push back the deadline another six months to December to allow for the NTC to have all the new rules and regulations submitted.

The Australian Trucking Association CEO Mathew Munro said he welcomed the delay because it would give the NTC enough time to review the unfair penalties for work diary offences.

Munro also suggested the NTC should use the extra time to look at increasing the flexibility of the standard work and rest hours schedule for truckies.

No one would argue that there shouldn’t be more flexibility in that area, but the one thing that the NTC most definitely does not need is more time.

Thanks to a widespread and lengthy industry consultation process, the commission has had many of the answers to our woes staring them in the face for months – and sat on their hands seemingly doing nothing constructive about it.

We don’t have more time.

More than 50 truckies will not be with loved ones for Christmas this year after losing their lives on our roads in 2023.

That’s 50-something too many in our book. As you so rightly remind us on our Facebook page, if any other industry lost even half that number in one year there would be a Royal Commission inquiry, at the very least.

Why then is trucking not afforded the same respect? No one should leave for work with family fearful they may not return safely.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the NTC for the horrific road toll, or advocating for another inquiry – please, no more inquiries. We’d already need a triple road train to lug all the paperwork gathered in the endless array of consultations and roundtables.

I just wish all those in power would stop all the needless delays, stop blaming the previous government and make much-needed changes to ensure this industry is a hell of a lot safer than it is now.

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