We'll quit ATA over safety, Sheldon threatens

TWU threatens to walk away from peak trucking group, accusing it of being "divisive” and irrelevant

We'll quit ATA over safety, Sheldon threatens
We'll quit ATA over safety, Sheldon threatens
By Brad Gardner | July 10, 2009

The trucking union may walk away from the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) after accusing it of being a "divisive" body that is fast becoming irrelevant.

Transport Workers Union (TWU) Federal Secretary Tony Sheldon has fired a broadside at the ATA bureaucracy, accusing it of ignoring its members and causing internal unrest.

The claims are threatening to split the association, with Sheldon telling ATN the TWU’s founding membership of the ATA is not guaranteed beyond this year.

He says the union must be convinced of the need to remain a member, adding many are fed up with the running of the association.

"It is pertinent on the ATA to convince its members of the relevance it represents," Sheldon says.

"The ATA is starting to lose relevance, and that is not good for anyone."

While admitting there are groups and individuals within the ATA focused on improving the industry, Sheldon claims their efforts are being stifled.

"You somehow find if you put a suggestion up, unless it has already been ticked off by the [ATA] bureaucracy, you are open to abuse," Sheldon says.

"The problem is they have become more divisive and less responsive to their member associations."

The union heavyweight claims the bureaucracy is also responsible for sending mixed messages, referring to the ATA’s contradictory stance on ‘safe rates’.

"It is extremely frustrating that you get different positions from the bureaucracy," Sheldon says.

Sheldon’s comments come as leaked documents from a recent ATA Council meeting show concerns over the group’s approach to safety.

Mark Sullivan, who chairs the ATA Safety Committee, recommended the group establish a full-time position for a safety officer.

"He [Mark] expressed a view that safety had received less attention in the affairs of the ATA than it had in the previous decade," minutes from the meeting say.

The proposal, however, only gained the support of the TWU’s representative, Brett Reed.

Sullivan and Reed declined to comment on the issue when contacted by ATN.

According to the minutes, ATA board member David Simon "commented that safety issues are owned by everyone in the [ATA] secretariat".

A spokesman for the group supported the comments, saying all ATA staff members have safety responsibilities.

The spokesman says the ATA Council did not think a position to focus specifically on safety was needed and members voted accordingly.

"The ATA council voted resoundingly against the idea [of a safety officer]," he says.

The council also voted against requiring St Clair to brief politicians each month on the ATA’s position on safety issues.

However, Sheldon says the creation of a full-time safety position will send a public message to the industry and the wider community that the ATA is serious about road safety.

Despite his criticism, Sheldon has congratulated the ATA for vowing not to stand in the way of a fixed rates scheme.

The group says it has no view on the issue and has distanced itself from its submission arguing against government intervention in the marketplace.

"At least they pulled away from their Steve Shearer view of the world," Sheldon says.

Shearer, the Chief Executive of the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA), co-authored the ATA submission and is a strong opponent of ‘safe rates’.

Shearer says new laws such as chain of responsibility and fatigue management are already forcing safety changes in the industry. Furthermore, he argues people will not necessarily drive in a safer manner just because they earn more money.

Shearer has written to Minister for Industrial Relations Julia Gillard urging the Federal Government to rethink its support of mandatory rates, but Sheldon says the SARTA chief executive has no support.

"He is one Indian standing alone," he says.

According to Sheldon, Shearer is opposing ‘safe rates’ because he supports workplace agreements.

"Steve has very extreme views," Sheldon says.

However, Shearer says the TWU is guilty of misleading the Government by saying fixed rates will improve road safety.

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