OPINION: Together as one

By: Michael Kane


The transport industry, as a united front, has helped truck drivers to maintain safe practices

OPINION: Together as one
Is it time for a reset?

 

The crisis ravaging our community and society is prompting calls for a reset. The devastation throughout the economy is destroying jobs and livelihoods and turning our world upside down. But it is also presenting an opportunity to examine how we have done things up to now and how things might be done better in a post-crisis world.

Already the foundations for this have been laid.

Australia and the world now know who the essential workers in our society are, and they most certainly are not the people whose value has been measured up to now in million-dollar pay packets.

The essential workers are the healthcare workers, the supermarket workers, and of course the transport workers: the truck drivers, the delivery workers, the garbos, the taxi drivers, the bus drivers and everyone who keeps our shelves stacked, our goods and the public moving.

When the crisis first hit and as truck drivers sought to keep those vital supply lines open, obstacles were put in their way. Many drivers were faced with truck stops which were closed, due to restrictions on restaurants and eating areas. Some found they couldn’t access decent hot meals or shower facilities.

Our industry stood together and with the help of Senator Glenn Sterle put pressure on the Federal Government to allow exemptions for drivers. When some states failed to recognise these exemptions the Transport Workers Union (TWU) teamed up with the Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association (ACAPMA) – the umbrella group for the truck stops and petrol stations – and pressed each state to ensure the exemptions were applied. Largely this has happened and many in the wider community swung in behind drivers to make sure they could get the rest and food they need on the road.

Standing together

Our industry came together again at a crisis roundtable which drew together drivers, operators and industry associations to press the need for help for the industry. The roundtable called on the Federal Government to urgently intervene to help save jobs and businesses in the industry.

Organised by the TWU and the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation, participants also included representatives from operators Toll, Linfox, Qube, TNT, ACFS Port Logistics, Finemores, Veolia; retailers Coles, Woolworths, Aldi; and industrial associations NatRoad, Tasmanian Transport Association, Western Roads Federation plus politicians and industry experts.

The roundtable heard from port operators where imports have been hit by supply chain disruption and the pressure on other road transport operators for demand that was never envisaged. The roundtable participants agreed to a list of action points which were sent to the Federal Government on ways it can assist the industry to remain viable. This included help with subsidising wages of workers of businesses which see a large fall off in turnover.

Participants also called for loans for operators in distress, tax relief on vehicles registrations and excise duty. There was a focus on what clients need to do including paying operators on time, pausing contract penalties and maintaining pre-outbreak rates to ensure businesses can pay their overheads and labour costs.

Unemployed crisis

One of the big outcomes of the roundtable was the announcement by the Government shortly afterwards to pay the wages of workers stood down during the crisis through the JobKeeper payment. This was a great win for the many transport workers who took the time to sign petitions, call their local MP, and take action to save jobs in our industry. It also shows the power when our industry stands together at a time of crisis.

As this crisis continues and deepens, we must keep up the momentum behind our essential transport workers and the cohesion throughout transport for a better industry.

Our industry, when it comes to picking up the pieces, must insist that we can’t go back to business as usual. As an industry which kept Australia moving during the pandemic, we must insist on a regulatory framework which ensures an end to the squeeze by the major retailers, manufacturers, oil companies and other clients.

Even before this crisis our industry was beset by problems. High numbers of insolvencies, the highest numbers of worker deaths and low returns for operators and businesses is what shamefully marks our industry out. This has got to end.

We must strive for better and now is the time to consider what our industry should look like into the future.

Our aim must be to lift standards through regulation. The days of voluntary codes and hoping for clients to do right by transport are over.

We are agitating for a changed industry where safety is the number one priority and drivers and businesses are allowed see a decent return for their hard work.

Now is the time to join the push for a better post-crisis industry.

 

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