Differences of opinion

There’s nothing more volatile than truck drivers from different camps with varying views on rates, how they should be set, and union membership. It’s almost a lynch mob mentality. The Interstater writes


The attack continues – the one where one truck driver’s opinion is attacked by another truck driver because his limited ideas are different although it would seem more solid.

Truck drivers are loathe to be on the same page as each other. Separated by distance and status, one is simply a company driver so his opinion doesn’t rate. The other is an owner-driver, hence he believes he is so much further up the food chain than the guy he considers too weak to go it alone, and become what owner-drivers consider to be – a business owner.

This is where it gets interesting because neither side will give an inch. So who’s right? The owner-driver doesn’t seem to put much thought into the difference between himself and the co-driver. He can only base his beliefs on his own history and motivation.

It’s said that the only difference between an employee and a businessman is that the businessman took a risk. Well done to all those that have made a success out of buying a truck. But let’s not ignore the reasons others don’t take a leap of faith and buy their way into subservience, sleepless nights and working at home during their off-duty time.

Many of those that think they could have made a squillion out of having their own truck or maybe even a small fleet have seen how high the failure rate is. They made the decision to drive for someone else so they could park up, kick the door shut and spend what short but valuable time they had at home with their families, loved ones and mates.

Like many of you, I know more people that have failed at being an owner-driver than I’ve known that have made it. Sure, some have done well against all odds – and more power to them – but there is no denying that the failure rate is astronomical. Why? Well, rates really. Much of that is pre-determined long before they take ownership of the keys.

Maybe it was because a second-hand truck was all they could afford, or maybe they just made the wrong choice of truck for the type of work that they chose to do. But as they say, a mistake is not a mistake until you make it a second time.

Where we choose to live can have a huge impact as to whether we make it as an owner-driver or not. Running Melbourne to Sydney has historically been the number one freight route in this whole country, yet many have made Brisbane-Sydney more of a steady income stream.

North Queensland has proven lucrative for some, but disaster for so many others. Freight dries up in all parts of Australia, but some places more often than others. Tassie is well known to be seasonal, yet if you are in with the right crowd, there are big opportunities for anyone that wants to be seen as in-charge of their own destiny.

One thing owner-drivers have been short on is accepting that they are and always have been competing with company drivers where rates are concerned. You’ll be hard pressed to find one that will admit it, but it’s the first fact of truck ownership. On that point alone, owner-drivers are generally devoid of doing anything about it, due primarily to the fact that they simply won’t accept that avoiding that simple truth is basically what holds them back financially.

Instead of disregarding the issue, they should really be at the forefront of helping drivers gain pay rises and supporting them getting better conditions, because it is only when company drivers and equipment costs outweighs that of using an owner-driver will the owner-driver rates improve.

Owning a truck outright is a no-brainer when it comes to making a dollar, but unless you are making enough to sock away enough money to pay for your next truck in five or seven years’ time, you are on a road to disappointment if you are not the best mechanic you know.

Labelling the company that you subbie for ‘your customer’ is another misnomer that is only going to cause you a world of pain further down the track. A customer is in fact the people who own the freight. It’s not a freight cartage company that is prepared to throw you a bone whenever they have an excess of cartage that you are prepared to do at a time and rate that best suits them.

I’m still amazed that there are so many who are ignorant of the real issue that they fought hard against and lost so much over in the demise of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT). I have explained this until the cows come home.

The day after the work was ripped out from under the "35,000 owner-driver small family businesses" (said in a Michaelia Cash whine), there would have been 35,000 loads sitting on the deck the next morning. Then on the second morning 70,000 loads; day 3, 105,000 loads; day 4, 140,000 loads that hadn’t travelled to their destination on the backs of an owner-driver small family business, as Cash and Joyce conned you all into believing.

Here we are, 14 months later, and so many still don’t get it. Have you all heard what your mates are saying about you behind your backs? The things they have been saying to me and others about the whole scheme that unfolded without the majority of you all even considering at the time? The general consensus was, ‘let them all bleed, let them all go bust, let it all come crushing down, it will happen anyway’.

You probably don’t want to hear this, and probably why you haven’t had it said to your face, but that doesn’t mean that that isn’t the mindset of those in the know.

For the record, I agree. The RSRT was a dog’s breakfast when it was in print, but time and necessity would have dictated that it would have quickly been a case of get that stuff of your gear and go and we’ll work out later. How we are going to be able to pay you what you are finally worth, and the pittance that we have been paying you out of the goodness of our hearts in the past?

Why are owner-drivers so frightened of speaking up about being underpaid for such a high percentage of their work? Why are they so keen to blame others for their mistakes in running a lucrative business when the higher percentage would actually make more money and take home more money each week, each month and every year if they were to take a look in the mirror and see the bloke that’s standing in the way of financial security for their family?.

No union lover

I am not a union loving anything. I believe in the union as a mass collective. I believe, because I know, that without a strong union, we beg. The demise of the union, the Transport Workers Union (TWU), is our own fault because we all walked away from it.

We were interstate truck drivers and we were totally and completely different to local drivers, but we didn’t have a union that knew or understood what we did for a living.

Fifty-odd years ago it was a totally different world than the one we live in today. The TWU back in the day didn’t need the support of so few drivers in one sector that couldn’t really be reached, so we were never really given much representation when all’s said and done.

When the ‘minister’ became an organiser things improved, but mainly for the larger trucking companies.

Getting blokes to pay their memberships was worse than pulling teeth, mainly because it was too hard to chase everyone down, because interstate drivers move jobs so often. They chase the better dollars that mostly don’t exist, so the magic roundabout continues to this day.

Unlike most of you, I don’t only blame the TWU. I blame every truck driver that whinges about the way things are yet do absolutely nothing about changing anything at all. Attacking and being attacked is the national sport in trucking today, and we only have ourselves to blame.

So contrary to popular belief, I am not a TWU puppet, but I will defend anyone that is a union member because they are the ones that fight for whatever improvements the industry as a whole achieves. Even if you are not a union supporter, financially or otherwise, we all reap the benefits of any gains they make. It’s a pity owner-drivers can’t see it.

Toll on rail

It was interesting to read the words of the Toll CEO in the Financial Review stating that Toll Holdings is having trouble getting drivers, and his company is looking forward to getting as much freight as possible off Toll’s ‘dirty’ and ‘dangerous’ trucks and onto rail.

Let’s hope there will be less Toll trucks on the highways soon, so trucking can once again become profitable.

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