Road upgrades mask bigger issues

By: Frank Black*


OPINION: The federal government is kidding itself that putting money in to roads will equal zero deaths by 2050

Road upgrades mask bigger issues
Truck drivers: the "heroes of the pandemic".

 

We again face the grim reality of trucking being Australia’s deadliest industry, and we again see no response from the federal government.

According to new SafeWork statistics, 174 workers were killed while working in trucking between 2015 to 2019. In 2019 alone, we lost 58 transport workers, tragically killed while just trying to do their jobs. That’s more than one person killed every week.

These statistics are appalling, but not shocking. We know that our industry is riddled with problems that make our jobs more dangerous than they need to be. What’s alarming is that the government remains silent on these many workers killed and has no plan to prevent more needless deaths on the road.

Transport Minister Michael McCormack even suggested recently that road upgrades will put us on a path to zero fatalities by 2050. What a ridiculous statement. He is kidding himself if he thinks anyone in the transport industry will buy into that far-reaching notion. Very clearly, this media stunt is not aimed at those of us actually working in Australia’s deadliest industry. It is aimed to impress voter masses who are so distanced from trucking they may buy into the propaganda that his road upgrades will solve the high death tolls.

We’ve been asking for road upgrades for years. Funding for roads is very necessary and long overdue. But none of us are under any illusion that upgrades alone will fix the dangerous nature of our industry.

Even if roads were the only issue to be fixed, why make this funding dependent on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis? It is important to encourage states to act quickly to fix roads that, as we know, are well past retirement and in great need of maintenance. But the Transport Minister is dangling this carrot while whispering to voters: "Don’t worry; we probably won’t need to spend all this money."

Wouldn’t it be novel if the Transport Minister also addressed the pressures truck drivers face, including the low pay that forces us to work harder and faster for less?

Instead, we’re consistently met with the long arm of the law looking to make a buck.


TRUCK DRIVERS TREATED WITH DISDAIN


Just recently, more police blitzes saw many truckies cop fines for minor misdemeanours. One bloke told me he was fined for a logbook error from three months ago – during the height of lockdown. So much for the ‘heroes of the pandemic’.

Now is not the time to go revenue hunting from the bottom of the supply chain. The safety regulator has confirmed trucking to be the deadliest industry by far, with transport worker deaths accounting for a third of all workplace deaths. Rather than attacking truckies, looking for problems with our trucks and logbooks, how about consulting us on the dangers we face? No one understands better than us what it’s like in the cab of a truck.

Meanwhile, the clients at the top of the supply chain have raked in profits from the pandemic. For them, it has been dollar signs in their eyes. For us, it has been more pressure to keep shelves stocked while also comprehending ever changing border crossing rules and admin, regular COVID tests and trying to avoid self-isolating within the confines of our trucks.

The federal government needs to be reminded that that number – 174 – is not just a statistic. It is 174 fathers, uncles, sisters, friends and neighbours. It is 174 families left devastated.

As tragic as it is when a worker is killed in any industry, we fail to see the same concern shown to truck drivers as we do others, such as in construction. Just because the road is our office doesn’t make the deaths of truck drivers are any less distressing or any less painful for the families left behind.

 

*FRANK BLACK has been a long distance owner-driver for more than 30 years. He is the current owner-driver representative on the Australian Trucking Association Council.

 

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