Opinion

Rallying to designate freight as essential service

It’s been a great privilege to use these pages in recent weeks to amplify a campaign by some of the nation’s leading trucking and transport associations to get the Commonwealth government to designate freight workers as essential service providers.

Together with NatRoad, the Northern Territory Road Transport Association, Tasmanian Transport Association, Queensland Trucking Association, and the Western Roads Federation, the VTA has been advocating on several priority issues that our collective members have identified as being particularly crucial in the short term.

These include getting the Therapeutic Goods Administration to approve rapid antigen Covid testing by linehaul freight drivers, as a complement to weekly testing by accredited laboratories, and most recently our efforts to have drivers recognised as essential service providers.

Since the pandemic began, the freight industry has done a terrific job in reinforcing just how essential our industry is, so much so that the prevailing view by most in the community is that – like police, ambulance and other emergency services – we are already recognised as essential.

In fact, according to the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Medical Association, the term “essential services” is not defined in Commonwealth legislation and is not consistently defined at the state or territory level.

So as part of our push for a unified national framework on border crossings, we want the Commonwealth to formally designate freight drivers as an essential service during States of Emergencies. Under the present system, states and territories can make essential service descriptions, but they tend to pertain to industrial action or emergency services.

Inconsistencies between jurisdictions lead to inconsistent border crossing requirements we have now, such as differing Covid testing requirements varying from two-day, three-day and/or weekly tests, depending on the jurisdiction.

The decision to declare that the road freight industry be recognised as an essential service during a State of Emergency is crucial in ensuring continuity within our national supply chains. The road transport industry is requesting that this recognition be implemented immediately, and that the status of the road freight driver be adjusted accordingly.

The status of being an essential service while in a State of Emergency only, is a consideration that would consolidate the commitment of the state and worker towards each other.

Concurrent with this, our request for the TGA to allow rapid antigen Covid tests for linehaul freight drivers is gaining momentum.

Over the past 18 months the road transport industry has made millions of trips and connections within every community and has not transmitted the Covid virus except for a handful of cases.

This record is exemplary and should be recognised in parallel with many of the parameters and restrictions that are having to be imposed upon the community due to the ease upon which the virus can spread.

Currently, the interstate transport sector is required to have asymptomatic Covid tests every three days to ensure they are virus free and do not carry Covid between states as they complete their freight tasks.

Without contesting medical advice and direction, the road freight industry is requesting that the asymptomatic testing regime for interstate freight drivers be modified to include less personally invasive rapid antigen testing for those drivers that must test more than once a week. That is, a rapid/home kit test and an accredited pathology laboratory test every week.

This modification would see the testing regime still acknowledged, the community protected and drivers avoiding the personal discomfort that twice weekly lab testing provides.

We are encouraged that the National Cabinet has reviewed our request, and there is certainly a groundswell of public support for rapid antigen testing.

Antigen testing is used worldwide to provide quick and accurate proof of negative Covid tests, and there is no reason the tests shouldn’t be part of our national toolbox to manage the virus.

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