No rest for Botany's struggling truckies

Port Botany truckies forced to work 20 hours straight and use vehicles as makeshift homes just to survive, TWU claims

No rest for Botany's struggling truckies
No rest for Botany's struggling truckies
By Brad Gardner | January 12, 2010

Truck drivers at Port Botany are being forced to work 20 hours straight and use their cabs as makeshift homes just to survive, according to the Transport Workers Union.

The TWU has released the findings of its investigations into the running of Sydney’s ports, with union boss Tony Sheldon saying the findings show drivers are being treated as "second-class citizens".

Sheldon claims as many as 60 drivers a day have to work at least 15 to 16 hours and break road laws due to economic pressure from clients.

"We have other drivers sleeping in their trucks because they are working 18 to 20 hours straight and can’t afford time off because they can’t afford the fuel home," Sheldon says.

"It is stain on our national economy when we have drivers sleeping in their trucks around Port Botany because they can’t afford to drive them home for the night."

According to Sheldon, many drivers are also denied penalty rates for evening and weekend work and queuing times at the port.

He says this forces many to work longer to try and make up for lost time.

The alarming findings forced the Rudd Government to reiterate its support for an overhaul of pay methods in the industry to end unsafe practices.

Deputy Prime Minister and Industrial Relations Minister Julia Gillard says there is a relationship between on-road behaviour and rates of pay.

"How you pay the truck drivers induces behaviour; whether they drive safely or whether they push themselves to drive long hours because it’s the only way that they’re going to get paid," Gillard says.

"So we want to make sure that the system of pay, what’s called ‘safe rates’, is a system that’s actually leading to good behaviour on our roads."

Gillard last year established a group made up of employer and employee representatives to develop a new pay system to ensure drivers adequately recover costs.

As well as the TWU, the group includes the Victorian Transport Association, the Queensland Trucking Association, Linfox and Scott’s Transport.

The TWU wants a tribunal established capable of ruling on what constitutes a ‘safe rate’ and safe working conditions.

"Clients have drivers over the barrel and exercise their power in way[s] that can only be described as immoral," Sheldon says.

The advisory group will look at the recommendations of the National Transport Commission’s report into remuneration in the industry which found a link between safety and pay rates.

Gillard says the group will also look at ‘safe rates’ in the context of existing state and federal regulations and the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) decision to establish uniform transport laws.

The group will also need to consider the recommendations of an inquiry by Lance Wright QC and Professor Michael Quinlan in 2008 that criticised current pay practices and identified low pay with poor safety.

The TWU has long argued that pressure from clients and poor pay has forced truck drivers to commit unsafe practices.

It wants urgent action from the Government to reform the industry and last year began a new campaign of planting crosses in public places to show how many people have died from truck-related incidents since the release of the NTC’s report.

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