Ken Wilkie, Opinion

A matter of opinion – Wilkie’s Watch

Wilkie's Watch

In regards to the National Road Freighters Association (NRFA) column in OwnerDriver’s April issue. The author, Chris Roe, gave me a heads up beforehand on the contents of the column.

OwnerDriver editor Greg Bush then invited me to respond if I so wished – and I do. Firstly, Chris accuses me of suggesting that the Closing Loopholes legislation was somehow tied to renumeration.

If one takes the trouble to read the summary of the Road Transport Industry Statement: Closing Loopholes Road Transport Reform document, which is the one Chris generously furnished to me, on page three it says, “With 347 insolvencies in the last financial year, decades of research has demonstrated the link between low pay and poor safety outcomes. Operators and drivers are pushed to the limit with no safety net of industry standards to fall back on. In 2022 this led to 185 truck related fatalities, including 44 truck drivers.”

Where is that research data? What study were these figures based on? Any statement such as this must provide facts and figures.

Now this is where I take exception. That statement offers no evidence for cause or fault, and I feel it is something of an insult as it implies that simply better economic parameters will substantially improve the industry’s safety outcome.

I’m not stupid enough to suggest that no truck driver is innocent of cause. It’s never been done and I for one would like to see the result should a study be undertaken to determine the financial status of every heavy vehicle driver involved in a fatal accident – his/ her causation or another’s error.

I’m very aware that some operators can operate safely on the smell of an oily rag – others can’t.

I draw your attention to comments attributed to DSE Transport managing director Ryan Howison, as appearing in the Big Rigs newspaper. Ryan expresses some concerns about the new Bill that so many people are singing praise to.

Incorporated or employee

Many moons ago in South East Queensland, there was a situation of self-employed, not incorporated, operators sub-contracting to one of the majors, to the extent that the trucks of these subbies were painted at company expense in company colours and to the exclusive availability to that major.

Suddenly there was a hue and cry when – and with help – these blokes claimed holiday and superannuation as employees. The outcome was that all subbies were required to become incorporated so as they could not then claim employee status.

Ryan suggests a new capacity of the Fair Work Commission for operators such as myself. I quote Ryan’s article under the heading, ‘casual employment’.

“So, what is the main change? The new definition will say that employees are casual only if: there isn’t a firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work, factoring in the real substance, practical reality and true nature of the employment relationship.”

I and several other operators are currently engaged to tow company trailers. Consequently, it appears that my prime contractor could be held responsible for sick pay, weeks of leave and superannuation contributions. So where to now?

Ryan, at the conclusion of his comments, and again I quote: “I think the main message we need to understand from these laws is that transport faces an uncertain future. This legislation will introduce changes that are brand new, unpredictable and untested. Now more than ever, it is important for transport operators and companies to ensure that their ‘legal’ ducks are in a row and make sure they are prepared for the changes when they come into effect. We won’t get it right first time around, but we need to be ready.”

My personal view? I don’t condone people taking advantage of others, as with our society’s driving safety outcomes. We’re trying to crack the egg using legislation as opposed to education. Trying to legislate to replace morality.

The other part of my article in which I apologised for skiting was put there to demonstrate that drips like me can be especially successful in this industry with just a little common sense and attention to detail.

As described in my OwnerDriver March column, I have been involved in two horrific accidents. Neither was caused by financial cutting of corners, but both could have had their severity markedly reduced with more competent driving.

Lastly. I have no intention of ever shutting my trap while ever I see injustice, dishonesty, or ignorance that can be remedied.

KEN WILKIE has been an owner-driver since 1974, after first getting behind the wheel at 11. He’s on his eighth truck, and is a long-time Owner//Driver contributor. He covers Rockhampton to Adelaide and any point in between. His current ambition is to see the world, and to see more respect for the nation’s truckies. Contact Ken at

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