Sterle challenges Truss on safe rates

Labor senator and former truck driver Glenn Sterle takes Warren Truss to task for rubbishing safe rates

Brad Gardner | October 18, 2011

Labor senator and former truck driver Glenn Sterle has challenged the Opposition’s transport spokesman to a debate after he rubbished a proposed safe rates scheme for the transport industry.

Sterle has penned an open letter to Warren Truss in response to the Nationals leader’s claim there is no evidence to support safe rates.

Calling Truss’s comments "ill-informed" and "insulting", the former road train operator and Transport Workers Union (TWU) official invited the Wide Bay MP to visit trucking yards throughout the country for a series of debates on the issue.

Referring to the work of Professor Michael Quinlan and Lance Wright QC, Sterle says existing payment systems put pressure on drivers to cut corners and work excessive hours to make ends meet.

"A safety net of a safe rate for employees and owner-drivers will allow them to secure a steady rate of remuneration so they are not forced into dangerous practices," Sterle writes.

He says a safe rates scheme will not prevent companies from competing on price but will ensure through a minimum rate that competition does not come at the expense of the safety of drivers and the community.

"If you had even a limited understanding of the industry, you would realise that your comments were not only without foundation, but also insulting to the thousands of transport workers who continue to operate under dangerous conditions simply to make a living," Sterle says.

He wants Truss to provide dates on when he will be available to debate him on safe rates, which the senator believes "will open your eyes to the challenges facing this industry".

"I urge you to become better aware of the important issues in this sector before making any further ill-informed statements," Sterle says.

The Federal Government is expected to announce its plans for a safe rates scheme this month. It last year released a directions paper proposing a tribunal within Fair Work Australia to rule on what constitutes a safe rate.

Senator Jacinta Collins last week consulted the government’s hand-picked advisory group on safe rates to finalise the government’s position on the matter.

Sterle also used the letter to repeat accusations from TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon that the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) CEO Stuart St Clair is lobbying Truss to oppose safe rates.

St Clair denied the accusation at the time, and in response to Sterle’s letter the ATA told ATN today: "The ATA has not briefed the shadow minister for infrastructure and transport on safe rates."

In his letter, Sterle claims St Clair "is no friend of truck drivers" and is only concerned about his position as CEO. He goes on to write that the ATA puts the interest of its transport company members ahead of truck drivers.

"If you rely solely on Mr St Clair and the ATA for your information in this area, then it is little wonder your understanding of the issues is so limited and misguided," Sterle says.

"If you were to enter a real trucking yard with real workers and their families rather than just reading out the ATA media releases as they are sent to you, you would hear about the conditions the drivers endure."

ATA Government Relations and Communications Manager Bill McKinley says the group is focused on improving the safety, viability and professionalism of the trucking industry.

"Over the last 20 years, the ATA has championed policy initiatives that have dramatically reduced the fatal accident rate for articulated trucks. The ATA will continue lobbying for measures that will reduce the truck accident rate, with the aim of making sure every truck driver and every car driver gets home safely," he says.

Read Senator Glenn Sterle’s letter to Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss here

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