Sheldon: Dubbo crash proves need for safe rates

TWU says serious crash proves need for safe rates tribunal, but Coalition isn't sold on the idea

By Brad Gardner | February 10, 2012

The Transport Workers Union claims a serious crash involving two trucks near the NSW town of Dubbo proves the need for a tribunal to set pay rates for truck drivers.

A driver was thrown from his cabin on February 8 and a large number of cattle were killed when the heavy vehicles collided on the Newell Highway.

A police investigation is still underway into the cause of the accident. The driver ejected from his cabin had to be airlifted to hospital with serious chest injuries, while the other driver sustained minor injuries.

"This latest appalling tragedy on our roads has regrettably highlighted the urgent need for safe rates legislation to be passed by parliament to reduce the continuing carnage on our roads," TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon says.

He has also called for a full investigation into the deadlines imposed on the drivers to see if they were under delivery pressures from their employer’s client.

"Whilst the full details of this tragedy have yet to emerge, it is sadly regrettable that major road incidents involving heavy vehicles will continue to occur whilst unsustainable pressures are placed on drivers," Sheldon says.

"This tragedy is yet another unfortunate reminder of the urgent need for safe rates for everyone in the transport industry."

The Federal Government’s Road Safety Remuneration Bill aims to establish a tribunal within Fair Work Australia on July 1 to set remuneration conditions for truck drivers.

It will have the power to set binding rulings across the supply chain, including mandating paid waiting times and payment terms.

The move is in response to academic studies and a report from the National Transport Commission (NTC) arguing a link between low rates of pay and poor safety in the trucking industry.

"Safe rates will ensure that employee-drivers are not pressured by major clients to meet implausible and dangerous delivery schedules and to work long unsustainable hours to make up for poor pay," Sheldon says.

"Truckies who do a fair day’s work deserve a fair day’s wages."

Associations such as the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Logistics Council and the NSW branch of the Australian Trucking Association oppose the tribunal.

They dispute a link between pay and safety and argue governments and regulators should instead focus education and training, enforcing chain of responsibility law and improving roads.

Sheldon has urged MPs from all sides of politics to support the reform, which is currently the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.

Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss says the Coalition will reach its position after the inquiry is completed, but there are already signs the party may oppose the creation of the tribunal.

Truss has previously labelled a link between pay and safety as "a spurious argument at best".

The The Australian Financial Review on February 8 reported opposition to the government’s plans during a Coalition party room meeting.

"[Opposition leader] Tony Abbott said we would never support wage fixing dressed up as safety legislation," a spokesman for the Coalition was quoted as saying.

During parliamentary proceedings Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher asked the government to provide "any empirical and independent evidence" that increasing pay rates for truck drivers will improve road safety.

Senator Kim Carr referred to the NTC’s report in response, saying low rates of pay can lead to unsafe work practices.

"As a consequence, people work longer hours, they take drugs, they speed and they take action which is dangerous to other people," he says.

"So the fact that we are asking for people to be paid a decent wage is something this government is proud of."

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