Obstacles preventing transport workers from having a say

By: John Beer*

OPINION: Feedback from transport workers, notably owner-drivers, is generally shouted down during the decision making process

Obstacles preventing transport workers from having a say
The development of Standards for Loading Ramps and Forcing Yards is slowly coming to fruition.


I’ve been doing this for a bloody long time and still hearing the same frustrating talk about not enough drivers or operators participating or being involved. In the September edition of Owner//Driver magazine, Ken Wilkie talked about the gap between decision makers and those who do the work of transport, the drivers.

There’s a theme in almost every edition, if not in all transport publications and industry conversations. It’s that gap between the people behind the wheel and all the others that write policy, enforce laws, run companies and those who influence and participate in the decision making.

Why? It’s the costs of being involved in my opinion.

Zoom meetings are all the go. I’ve been on plenty of them lately, talking to WorkSafe Victoria for example on agricultural safety with agriculture representatives and WorkSafe people. We look at graphs and statistics that tell us how dangerous our work is. But COVID isn’t the only reason that we don’t have people coming out of Melbourne to see what we are doing. There’s almost an expectation that they wouldn’t go out to farms or feedlots or saleyards and see it so they know first-hand what problems look like.

Is it that workers with dirty hands aren’t taken seriously, or policy makers and bureaucrats are encouraged to do their work from behind a barrier of separation from those they manage? And how do we get transport fixed if there is an invisible wall stopping us, as well as a cost barrier, to becoming of those people that decide what happens?

The cost of attending industry meetings

Zoom meetings can go for an hour or two, or three. The people within associations, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, WorkSafe or enforcement agencies are employed. Their time is paid for. Every meeting they attend is scheduled; it is a normal part of their day. Their safety or business surviving doesn’t rely on a good outcome or decision, but that is what is on the line when one of us is having our say.

I try to schedule my load of cattle so I can get home in time to join a Zoom meeting. But we know how that works, so I might give that job away or get someone else to do it for me. I might lose $1,000 from being on that Zoom meeting, despite having a say about important issues.

Now we start to see the problem.

Can drivers and small operators bear the financial costs of meetings and trips to Canberra or other cities without help? No! Some of us are in associations or groups and we get help to travel, but our organisations are small and our money is limited. A return flight, taxi and hotel is easily over $500 every time, even if you stay in a flea hole. That means picking and choosing the meetings we go to, trying to get the best bang for our buck. And we bear many costs ourselves.

If you’re a driver, how do you keep the boss happy and ask for a day off to go to a meeting? Days off are precious, drivers might get one a week, so why would they miss their kids or partner to go to a meeting with people thinking they are inferior, dumb or don’t understand the bigger picture?

Road transport has shone bright during the pandemic, writes John Beer

I have a huge amount of admiration for people like Rod Hannifey who’s committed years to road safety while working full time as a long-distance truck driver. You could never afford to pay Rod what he’s worth and what he’s given to our industry. But Rod’s been clear how hard it is to do this. Having such a supportive employer and a passion for what he does makes him unique.

When you go into a meeting thinking "it’s going to be a waste of time", it makes it very challenging to ask for more money from your association to go back again. I can’t help thinking that this knowingly used to keep us out of decisions. Guess how many meetings they schedule on the weekend when we could get there?

Too many times I’ve been shut down at conferences and meetings. People tell me I am living in the past or I don’t understand the "complexities". I’ve heard it all. Sometimes you worry being noisy or telling inconvenient truths that could affect your business. I know it’s affected mine. I don’t regret having a say and standing up for what is right, but there is a personal cost. 

Safer facilities for livestockers

One of the best and most important things I have been a part of is the development of Standards for Loading Ramps and Forcing Yards. We are nearly at the finish line after 18 months. Those 18 months of work are a culmination of 40-plus years of my life seeing injuries and deaths of good people while trying to make facilities safer for all those who move livestock.

It’s been a part-time job for months. I shudder to think of the cost if our association paid someone to do this work – tens of thousands of dollars. And then it’s got to be the right person; it takes someone who can load cattle or sheep, knows trucks, knows the issues and supply chain. Plenty of us are doing the work but how many of you out there can drop your job or your business to do this?

Time is eaten up, driving to meetings, hours on the phone, hundreds of emails, face-to-face meetings or online. And that’s just the start, that’s before you have to hear all the excuses why things can’t just be fixed or be ignored. You have to fight to be heard every inch of the way.

The costs of being involved are huge, and that’s why small operators and drivers are so under-represented in associations and decision making. It’s as simple and disappointing as that. 


*JOHN BEER, with four decades as an owner-operator under his belt, is currently Immediate Past President of the LRTAV and ATA representative in the ALRTA. In addition, John is a past president and life member of both associations. He was the first recipient (2015) of the ALRTA McIver Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Livestock and Rural Transport Industry, and in 2016 was a finalist in the ATA Awards for Outstanding Contribution to the Australian Trucking Industry. John sat on the ATA Council as the owner-driver representative from 2017 to 2019.


You can also follow our updates by liking us on Facebook


Trucks For Hire | Forklifts For Hire | Cranes For Hire | Generators For Hire | Transportable Buildings For Hire