TWU courts crossbench support for safe rates

Union hits Canberra to woo MPs on safe rates, including holding a meeting with a sceptical Opposition

TWU courts crossbench support for safe rates
TWU courts crossbench support for safe rates

November 4, 2011

Lobbying is underway on safe rates, with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) meeting key crossbench MPs and the Opposition to rally support for changes to trucking remuneration.

TWU Assistant National Secretary Michael Kaine and the Australian Trucking Association’s owner-driver representative, Frank Black, hit Canberra this week to hold a series of meetings, including with Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss.

Truss recently ridiculed safe rates and dismissed the notion that reform could improve safety standards in the trucking industry.

Black and Kaine lobbied Labor MPs, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Greens MP Adam Bandt. Black also held individual discussions with Independent Andrew Wilkie and Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce.

The TWU argues poor rates of pay jeopardise safety because truck drivers are forced to work long hours and forego vital maintenance on their vehicles to make a living.

"At the end of it, everyone we spoke to is supportive in fixing this problem, and they are eager to have a look at some legislation," Kaine says.

"Mr Truss has had his briefings from some sectors of industry, but we had a productive conversation and he conceded there were pressures on drivers, including cost-recovery pressures."

Kaine says he discussed with Truss his recent comments on safe rates, which included the claim: "Safe rates is a spurious argument at best."

"We need a culture of safety on our roads and higher incomes for drivers doesn’t achieve that," Truss said in September.

Truss’ comments drew heavy criticism from TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon, who also accused the ATA of briefing him to oppose reform. The ATA has denied the accusation.

The Federal Government was due to respond last month on a discussion paper released in late 2010 on establishing a safe rates scheme. The paper proposed extending employee protections in the Fair Work Act to sub-contractors and establishing a tribunal to rule on what constitutes a safe pay rate.

Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese says the government will introduce legislation, if necessary, by the end of the year.

During the series of meeetings, Black (pictured with Xenophon) recounted a recent single-vehicle accident involving a B-double carrying cattle.

He says the incident left him shaken when he and other drivers arrived on the scene to help the two seriously injured men, who were surrounded by dead and dying cattle.

"We didn’t know what had happened but we found the second guy 150 metres up the road sitting there saying over and over, ‘I was in the truck. I was just in the truck’," Black says.

Referring to a separate matter, Black also claimed a well-known Queensland-based trucking company was forcing drivers to work 27 hours straight. The union has not named the operator.

Drivers are restricted to 12-hour workdays unless they are accredited in basic fatigue management (BFM), which extends work time by another two hours.

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