OPINION: Treated with disdain


In these uncertain times, some truck stop owners are treating our trucking heroes like animals

OPINION: Treated with disdain
Dinner time: Some reopened truck stop restaurants are setting a good example for heavy vehicle drivers during the Covid-19 pandemic

 

One silver lining from the coronavirus cloud over us all at the moment is that for once trucking is being valued as the essential service we’ve always known it to be. Supermarkets have experienced higher demand than the Christmas period; hospitals need medical supplies fast; PPE deliveries are needed in all corners of the country; and industries like construction are continuing as normal. When States closed their borders, trucks were one of the few exemptions.

For many of us we’ve seen an increase in work and for the millions of people stuck at home, our contribution to Australia has become more apparent. Messages of thanks to truckies have been shared on the internet and even from the mouths of politicians. 

When we’re through this uncertain period, we must channel this newfound appreciation into improving pay, conditions and safety standards for the trucking industry.

Truck stops underserviced

Another surprising turn of events in the Twilight Zone that is 2020 is the much-needed attention that’s starting to shift to truck stops.

But while the public sings our praises and politicians enforce exemptions to ensure truck stops stay open, some appear to think it is okay for the same staff responsible for cleaning toilets and showers to also serve us food.

There isn’t a driver out there that hasn’t complained about truck stops being underserviced, unhealthy or too few and far between. Unfortunately, there’s no improvement there, and as I’ll address in a moment, some have even got worse.

But for the first time in a long time, truck stops were put onto the political agenda in State Governments. 

Since the exemptions to trucks which allowed us longhaul drivers to continue crossing borders, there’s been a big push from drivers, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and Senator Glenn Sterle to ensure truck stops continue to operate so that we can get a meal, have a shower and get some rest.

Shortly after, exemptions to the new restrictions were extended to truck stops – the first win for us. But it took a while for the message to get through. Not all truck stops remained open, and many that did forced us to eat outside and were not kept clean, exposing us to coronavirus risks.

The TWU and Senator Sterle continued to put pressure on State Governments, who in turn agreed to enforce the exemptions so that truck stops would be safe places for us to eat, wash and manage our fatigue.

But far more needs to be done.

Shocking conditions

Even in the better times some truck stops which previously set a high standard, appear to have been degraded following a change of ownership. And it’s continuing across the country.

Now it appears some truck stop owners are going the extra mile to cut back even further and treat us like animals, appearing to exploit a global health crisis to top up its profits at the expense of its customers.

Despite an abundance of space and a dozen trucks pulled up, these stops have only a couple of tables set up, pushing the majority of the drivers outside or back into the cab to eat their meals.

Cut backs on staff have left stops running on as little as two workers – one in the kitchen and the other left to serve food, service the pumps and clean the bathrooms.

Even in usual circumstances, it is unhygienic and frankly disgusting to have the same person cleaning toilets and showers and then serving food, wearing the same clothes and with barely any time even to wash their hands. During a coronavirus pandemic, this is outrageous.

I wouldn’t work on my truck, then serve dinner to my friends and family wearing the same grubby clothes. We don’t expect to be treated like this at a truck stop either – especially when we are paying for the service!

It is not at all the fault of the workers at these truck stops. If anything, they are even worse off. From what I’ve seen, they are only provided gloves for cleaning and little else to protect them from exposure to coronavirus or any other germs for that matter.

Service elsewhere

There are many other truck stops doing the right thing. And by that I mean they’re treating us like human beings that can eat at a table from plate with cutlery, while putting on extra cleaners to keep everybody safe. This should surely be the minimum, especially at a time like this.

I think we should be thinking: "I would rather spend my $1,500 on fuel at a garage that will appreciate and afford me the same respect I afford them."

I would encourage everyone to avoid any truck stop that engages in the previously mentioned practises. Instead, take your service to the truck stops and road houses doing right, particularly the smaller locally-owned ones.

Let’s keep up the pressure on governments to improve truck stops around the country so that we can be treated with the dignity all hard working Australians deserve.

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