Drivers’ Advocate Trevor Warner is not letting a recent Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision derail him in his long-running fight to increase the loading and unloading allowance for long distance drivers.
Warner and fellow driver Brenda McKay had their application to vary the Road Transport (Long Distance Operations) Award to more accurately reflect truckies’ workload knocked back by the full bench of the FWC on November 20.
At the same hearing, the FWC also rejected their bid to have the travelling allowance paid, irrespective of whether or not the employer provides suitable accommodation away from the truck.
But Warner, a long-time interstate truckie and Queensland delegate of the National Road Freighters’ Association, is already calling on more support from his fellow drivers to help with an appeal.
“This decision shows the industry, and truck drivers, that the divide and conquer approach from employers and law enforcement has won out,” said Warner.
“They [the FWC] have come back to us and basically said you’re just two whinging truck drivers; you don’t represent the wholesale argument of the industry.
“One of the messages I want to get across to the industry is that this is a classic example of the ‘us and them’ situation. The sheer numbers that are voting and fighting against the truck driver outweighs us eight to one.”
Warner estimates that the way the current award is structured, the average long-distance truckie is being short-changed by as much as $200 per week.
“If you want to break it down to nuts and bolts, all that we’re asking for is the equivalent of half of one cent per each bottle of Coke, but the big end of town are denying us that money.”
Warner and McKay’s bid drew opposing submissions from The National Road Transport Association (NatRoad), the Australia Road Transport Industrial Organisation, the South Australian Road Transport Association and the Transport Workers’ Union.
Warner told Big Rigs he was “gobsmacked” by the TWU’s submission against his variation, particularly given the fact the union had tried to do the same thing in 2017, while its WA branch also locked horns with Linfox earlier this year in a similar battle.
In its formal submission the TWU argued that the applications were afflicted by two related flaws; 1: the variations are too confined in their scope, and 2: the variations must be coupled with supply chain accountability provisions.
Big Rigs, however, understands that the TWU wholeheartedly supports the spirit behind Warner’s bid. It just didn’t agree with the way he was going about it.
“Award changes should look at the two awards governing drivers’ work and should cover owner-drivers,” said Michael Kaine, TWU National Secretary.
“We also want to see changes so that those customers engaging transport operators – the wealthy retailers, manufacturers and oil companies – are forced to cover the costs of award changes.
“If we fail to get this right, we run the risk of the cost being shifted elsewhere, with drivers being ripped off in another guise and safety being cut in another way.
Kaine added that it is clear transport is crying out for change and drivers know the stakes are high if it doesn’t come.
“It makes the Federal Government lack of interest all the more disturbing. The Government tore down a system in the form of the tribunal designed to bring about the necessary reform and replaced it with nothing.
“Now drivers get ripped off their wages and are forced into gruelling work with long hours. The number of drivers killed last year spiked. This is a direct result of the pressure on drivers and the mess our industry is in.”
In its 18-page decision on Warner and McKay’s application, the FWC said that one of the major reasons for rejecting the submission was the lack of concrete evidence presented that would indicate a need to vary the current remuneration structure that has been in place since at least 1993.
“These ‘trip rates’ strike a balance between the needs of employers and employees – giving employers a degree of certainty in tendering for work, and for employees in knowing what they will be paid,” writes the FWC.
“There is no need to calculate the exact number of kilometres driven, nor time taken, for each journey. In some cases, employees will be advantaged by the way the schedule operates; in other cases, there could be some advantage to the employer.
“We do not consider that the proposed variations should be made without a thorough reassessment of the schedules and the way in which they operate. No party sought such a wholesale reassessment and we do not have the evidence before us to conduct such an exercise. In these circumstances, we decline to make the proposed variations.”
It’s statements like this that only fuel Warner’s commitment for a second crack at the commission.
“I can understand what they’re saying if you’re a Linfox or Ron Finemore driver, but I don’t think they actually understand what it’s like as a small fleet driver,” he said.
“They say some you win, some you lose, but the employers have worked out that they can use the long-distance driver to their maximum capacity without employing a local driver and that’s what we’re trying to prevent because that puts pressure on fatigue, the logbook, and the driver.
“While that loophole is there, we believe the drivers will still be exploited to the magnitude that they are.”
Warner said the next step is to produce a short video of a day in the life of a driver to support an appeal, along with canvassing for more drivers to help the cause.
“We need to demonstrate to truck drivers that we need to get our heads together and provide evidence to a central location. We’re not letting this go,” he promised.
“This particular case highlights that membership to an association, or union, is actually a vote.”