Opinion

Driver consultation essential for workplace safety

Work should not hurt, yet in too many workplaces, it still does. 

There are too many workplaces where managers do not know what is required of them under Australian workplace safety laws. There are too many workplaces where hazards of all kinds are tolerated and often ignored. There are too many workplaces where a persistent refusal to address deadly pressures in transport is sending hundreds to their graves every year. 

It is no wonder that transport workers, both owner-drivers and employees, want a role in the safety of their workplace. They want their voice heard, and they are seeking fairness and want to part of the conversation. Drivers want protection from risk.

The key to reform on safety was provided by the transport industry through submissions made to the inquiry led by Senator Glenn Sterle, which led to the report Without Trucks Australia Stops. 

The key recommendation is that the government must consult with drivers. The recommendation is about consultation with those who are working on the roads every day. At the centre of the report is a recommendation the federal government establish an independent body to create and enforce universal binding standards in road transport, to ensure the safety of transport workers and all road users. 

The TWU has played a key role already in ensuring transport workers have someone to turn to when they are concerned about safety in their workplace. We provide workers a powerful voice through training and worker support. We know there is a need, because every day we are picking up the pieces left by managers who are cutting corners on safety. 

One of the key ways that the TWU supports safety in the workplace is through health and safety representatives (HSR). 

HSRs are workers elected by their colleagues and trained by the TWU to have the right conversations in yards to ensure workers get home safely. HSRs increase the level of consultation; it is a working model that means drivers get home at the end of the shift. 

We know from our members that prior to having HSRs in place, very little was happening in their yard, and things were being swept under the carpet. HSRs are bringing real progress, morale is strengthened in yards; management take safety more seriously. 

Workers, however, are still up against attempts to restrict unions from entering workplaces to investigate safety breaches and support workers. TWU representatives have had the police called on them by management who do not want change in their yards, and who don’t want their unsafe practices exposed. 

The stakeholders across the industry are well aware of declining safety standards, and the TWU knows it is time for the government to take meaningful action. We need to be considering options like bringing in an industry safety skills passport for drivers, such as the industry-supported Bluecard program. In addition, we must see the government consulting with relevant registered organisations of workers and employers.

A conversation with the industry is the key to reform for a safer industry. Senator Sterle built a series of recommendations that will build and strengthen jobs and ensure the enforcement of binding standards that apply to all participants in the supply chain.

Now is our time to make it a reality.  

  • Richard Olsen is TWU NSW/QLD State Secretary
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