Industry support for electronic work diaries at risk

By: Brad Gardner

Governments risk losing industry’s support for electronic work diaries over stance on rest break offences.

Industry support for electronic work diaries at risk
SARTA executive director Steve Shearer.


Industry support for electronic work diaries is at risk of flatlining over concerns truck drivers using the devices will be fined for petty rest break offences.

Transport ministers earlier this year agreed drivers using electronic diaries should not be penalised for minor breaches of work hours under fatigue management laws, but there has been no move to adopt a similar approach toward rest breaks.

It has led to concerns drivers will be pinged for infringing mandatory rest requirements by as little as a few seconds, given how accurate electronic diaries are.

South Australia Road Transport Association (SARTA) executive director Steve Shearer says some tolerance is needed to account for drivers who inadvertently make a mistake and resume work earlier than allowed.

"They are asking people, voluntarily, to take up an electronic work diary system that will penalise people for human errors of a matter of seconds. It could penalise people for as little as a couple of seconds up to a mistake of a minute or two with very substantial fines with absolutely no tolerance," Shearer says.

Governments intend to introduce electronic work diaries as a voluntary alternative to paper-based reporting to help the industry comply with its fatigue management obligations.

However, Shearer says SARTA and the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) are urging the industry to stick with the paper format unless some tolerance is provided for minor rest break offences. 

"We really should be doing everything we can to encourage people to use electronic work diaries but SARTA and the ATA and many others are just going to keep on saying don’t touch them with a barge pole until they fix this problem because it’s not fair," he says.

"My paper work diary will never show that I was 15 seconds shy of a rest break."

Shearer says policy makers need to recognise drivers will make mistakes from time to time.

"How about we take an approach that says for breaches of less than 30 seconds or 10 seconds, or whatever it might be, in any one instance…there’s a breach but no penalty? However, it will be recorded and if we see an ongoing pattern then people are going to come out and have a look," he says.

Transport ministers earlier this year accepted the National Transport Commission's (NTC) recommendation to allow truck drivers using electronic diaries to work up to eight minutes more than their legal threshold a day. 

The measure is deisgned to ease fears that drivers will be penalised for slightly exceeding their alloted work hours.

NTC CEO Paul Retter says the agency has had discussions with the industry about electronic work diaries but decided against recommending transport ministers make any changes to rest break provisions.

"While NTC has recommended an aggregate eight-minute tolerance for work times in a 24-hour period we have not recommended a similar tolerance for rest breaks," Retter says.

"This is because drivers have greater control over their rest breaks than their work/driving hours. For example work/driving times are somewhat subject to external factors such as finding an appropriate place to stop the vehicle."

Retter claims electronic diaries can significantly improve industry productivity and safety but Shearer says the industry sees it differently.

Feedback from trucking operators has been negative, with Shearer saying they believe a zero tolerance approach on rest breaks is a sign governments intend to use the devices to raise revenue.

"When you’re being told that you can get fined for being seconds short on a rest break, people get instantly angry because their attitude is, ‘what is this all about? It’s just revenue raising’," he says.

"They see it as another sign – and this is probably not true but this is what they see it as – of government trying to screw every friggin’ cent they can out of this industry by way of over-regulation in a way that makes no sense."

Shearer says SARTA recently raised its case with SA transport minister Stephen Mullighan and is awaiting a response from his office.

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