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OPINION: Flogging a dead horse

The odds are stacked against drivers who simply want to stay safe and get paid for all hours worked


I had a good read about the findings of the Monash University’s Accident Research Centre (MUARC) on the Owner//Driver website. Even though it’s clear the good people of MUARC are full of good intentions, it would also be obvious to a reasonable person that the findings are more about proving what we truck drivers already know and appears to ignore the causation and the solutions.

It reads like it’s all about finding new ways of flogging a dead horse and not about addressing the elephant in the room.

Number one: Having the expectation that a truck driver should be able to continually complete a 14-hour shift that at best covers somewhere around the vicinity of being awake for at least 16 or 17 hours overall over a seven day/night cycle, is the area the team at MUARC should focus on from the get-go.

Secondly, they should then assess the sleeping area qualities available for the tired and exhausted guinea pigs to partake their dire need for acceptable sleep. Yes, you read that right, ‘acceptable sleep’. It’s like this column has been continually banging on about – sleep that has been catered for by the employer in a safe, quiet, dark, cool location with facilities the employer’s wife and children are accustomed to. Not some dirty, dusty, sweat-stained excuse for a mattress in an area the size of a coffin, sundrenched at a temperature that doesn’t pretend to be suitable, with no washroom, toilet, or room to swing a cat.

A driver doesn’t just get tired while driving; it quite often begins hours before starting the trip. That’s due no less to the trip endured previously where there were no bare-bones minimum requirements necessary to embrace sleep in such a way as to give the sleep quality needed, to fully handle the trip the driver is about to embark on.

It can be that fatigue steps up sooner on this journey, in part because the vehicle the driver has been given is making it harder to get a handle on. Hence, he or she may not feel at home in this particular vehicle.

Driving a particular make and model of vehicle has a great deal to do with just how comfortable and relaxed a driver may be throughout the journey, thus making fatigue less of an issue. Yet that hasn’t been spoken of or factored into the whole fatigue management farce.

Until someone steps up and realises that the reasons drivers cease their employment with a particular company needs to be thoroughly investigated, nothing tangible will change. Contrary to popular belief, drivers don’t just up leave a job cause someone pisses them off one day. The majority of drivers are loath to leave what they believe is a good job. And let’s not forget, no truck driver ever starts working for a p***k or takes on a shit job knowingly.

Unfortunately, history shows that truck drivers have little or no information about the past behaviour and performance of the employer they are about to drive for, only what little they may have heard through the grapevine or what someone thinks a mate may have said about them a while back.

On the other hand, a potential employer has the ability to vet any and all candidates through past employment records, making telephone inquiries, police checks, etc. So why isn’t there a register that a driver can go to and find out about how worthy this ‘grouse mob’ is to work for? When are we going to weed out the grubs, the ‘Ponzi Scheme’ businesses, the ‘House of Cards’ trucking companies that we have all had to wade through over the past four decades by being able to find out the true history of how these shonky operators exist?

Until either a government agency is given the task of setting up a trucking registry, or someone else comes up with a list of who we should drive for and who we should avoid at all cost, we will never eliminate the undercutting grubs. We will never eliminate wage theft and we will not be any closer to reducing fatigue or become better at saving lives. Whether we like to accept it or not, there are so many better ways of creating a safer industry. We have so many more effective ways of making our industry at least twice as lucrative as it is now or has been in the preceding decades. But until these ineffective associations, with their superior attitudes and self-serving mantras, get honest about setting a new higher standard, the only thing that is going to change is the date.

Hard road

Unfortunately, it must be said at this point that anyone who is feeling annoyed by what they have read so far, give yourself an uppercut right now because as has been said before, you don’t have to like what is written on this page, you merely have to accept it as fact.

The thing is, trucking is an offspring of transport. In the beginning trucks weren’t available to transport freight about – think horses – so by the time trucks came about, the hard road was already in place … sleeping rough, no air-con, nowhere to buy food on the side of the road unless you made it to the next big town. So our forefathers adapted, they were hard, tough men. They didn’t have 600 horses under their mockies, they didn’t have a Macca’s at south Gundy, the Crazy House, Ted’s Roadhouse, Black Mountain, Captain’s Mountain, the QTT or Truck City back when it all became about diesel engines. But that doesn’t mean we should be treated like it’s still 1950.

In 2020 no-one should be driving a truck without a bunk if they need to use a work diary. No-one should be expected to sleep in sub-standard conditions, and no-one should ever be forced to try in vain to sleep in any truck once the external temperature exceeds 28 degrees Celsius without an engine-off refrigerated air-conditioner. Or if they are rostered to do another 12 or 14 hour stint behind the wheel, and that includes all these poor bastards that are driving around the capital cities and out into the larger regional centres in these new-age road trains while not given a suitable place to facilitate their fatigue requirements.

This is not about knocking the good and valid work done by the people at MUARC, but until they are made aware that their little study is a complete waste of data mainly due to the simple fact that they are being stooged by smoke and mirrors. It was doomed to failure because the whole picture isn’t taken into account from the start and being stymied by hypocrites that have a mantra of “we don’t have to do the right thing, we only have to be seen to do the right thing”.

Until MUARC speaks to the great list of revolving door employment victims about why they left each job and finding out why drivers are getting so fatigued, their hard-fought-for data will be irrelevant.

Shonks and charlatans

Before it was taken down off of their site, the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) had a blog headed ‘IR Alert: Massive’ and went on to say, “An Application for Outrageous and Hugely Expensive Changes to Long Distance Award has been lodged with the Fair Work Commission”. The changes would see massive increased business-destroying costs in: loading/unloading payments and travel allowance (the old living away from home). It was written in haste and panic as it says, because someone rightfully sees the need to stop the BS and wage theft this industry survives on.

This industry has only produced a sizable profit due to the widespread business model of using wage theft as its mantra, and the only way forward is to abolish the pay per kilometre system we currently use, and be steadfast in moving forward at all cost of reverting to the tried and tested paid-by-the-hour system so as to weed out all the shonks and charlatans that this industry urgently needs to banish.

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