TWU: Raising our standards

By: Michael Kaine

The trucks keep rolling through the pandemic but some drivers are doing it tougher than others


The pandemic has had us all focused on dealing with the crisis in hand, listening to the constant updates from media and making sure our families are safe. But it’s worth remembering that the problems in trucking haven’t gone away and that as the crisis subsides it is important that we turn our minds again to reforming it and giving hope for the future.

There have been some horrific reminders lately of just how deadly our industry can be. The deaths of four Victorian police officers when they were hit by a truck on the Eastern Freeway at Kew in April has sent shock waves throughout the trucking community. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) stood with the Victorian Transport Association in expressing our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the police officers. The incident will no doubt be fully investigated but we all know that there are simply too many deaths on our roads.

Statistics recently released by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics highlights this. In 2019 there were 173 deaths from truck crashes, a huge jump from 2018 when there were 136 deaths.

In 2020, despite the pandemic reducing the numbers of cars on the roads, there have been 73 deaths so far this year.

When it comes to driver deaths, the numbers are also far too high, with 23 transport workers dying out of a total of 70 workers in 2020. One in every three workers killed is a transport worker, with other dangerous industries far off the fatalities levels of our industry: 13 construction workers and nine agriculture workers have been killed so far this year.

And when the deaths and destruction happen the entire focus is put on drivers and our industry. There is no examination up the chain to look at client contracts, financial squeeze, training, pressure or delayed payments.

More often than not it is the drivers who are in the firing line for all the ills in our industry. They get fined, stand trial and go to jail when things go wrong. The next in line are the transport operators which get raided, fined and prosecuted. But clients, who set the terms of contracts and chose the dodgy operators starving out decent employers, remain entirely out of the equation in the vast majority of cases.

This is what our industry must now focus on. We must hold clients to account and we must lift standards throughout our industry.

There will be many who will say this just isn’t possible right now, that the economy and businesses are just doing it too tough and that this is not the time for reform.

But in fact the opposite is true. Unless we put in place regulatory measures to hold clients to account and bring our industry up, we can expect things to get only worse.

What we need to do now is give hope to transport workers and hope to operators that we can emerge from the crisis in a better, stronger state.

COVID-19 impact

Drivers have told us in their thousands that are very worried about the future. Over 2,000 drivers responded to a TWU survey on the impact of the pandemic with more than 60 percent saying their biggest fear was losing their job or their contract. Almost one in two drivers said they were worried they would struggle to support their families.

A number of comments left by drivers are heartbreaking. Here are just some of them:

"Had no income for six weeks. Weekly hours dropped from 45-50 hours a week to zero. Employed casual for 11 years with same company."

"Things are hard, family is concerned for our future and we don’t understand why essential workers aren’t compensated fairly."

"Just enough money to cover 90 percent of bills and just enough food; not eating every meal due to not enough money for food."

"There is genuine fear and apprehension … even though everyone is trying to keep a smile on their faces, we all feel insecure and stressed about the future."

"Financial pressures increased. Uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring in relation to lack of work, loss of income, lack of protection against contacting coronavirus."

"My wife and I are worried like so many others about the near future if we lose our jobs we could lose our house. We are at that stage in life that we are trying hard to pay everything off before we retire so there will be no overheads. But if we lose our jobs it would be hard to find another job at our age."

Our industry owes it to these hard-working people to gives them hope for the future, that we can emerge and be better. Now is the time for us to stand together and make change a reality.

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