Make a change through association membership

By: Rod Hannifey

OPINION: Joining an industry association or union is the optimum avenue to have your road transport concerns heard

Make a change through association membership
There are an estimated 200,000-plus truck drivers in Australia.


How many of you are in an association? I heard there are over 200,000 truck drivers in Australia. While that covers a pretty diverse group, from a local refuse truck driver to someone pulling quads in Western Australia, we are all driving trucks. But are you a driver of a truck, or a truck driver? By that I mean more about your job. Do you deliver for your own business, deliver for your employer fence supplier, or do you work for a transport company?

Drivers doing local runs, whether they work for a transport company or their direct employer that manufactures products, drive trucks as part of their employment. They are unlikely to care about a lack of rest areas for interstate drivers or what the road is like in another state. You would think they would hope to be paid enough, want and need local roads and delivery points accessible and the like, but are possibly not interested outside their own area of operation.

Are they likely to join an industry association, or perhaps even the union, if they think they will help them get better conditions, not just better pay?

Now unions have excellent infrastructure, staff and offices, and access and connections to those they represent. But when you are an interstate driver, can the union represent you and support your issues, not only in the state you are based, but nationally? If you do mainly intrastate work, your state-based association may be the group to join and pursue your needs.

However, no group or association can do much without members and it is not just the fee or membership that you might pay. Governments listen to numbers. You can be the best spokesperson with immense industry knowledge and understanding, but unless you represent a substantial number of those involved you will struggle to get them to listen.

Yes, an individual can make a difference, but the larger the membership you represent, the more you can truly push an issue and be heard. Now the cynical among you will say, they still won’t listen let alone act, and that may well be true.

The issue is we are so diverse. A local transport company driver can join the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and have the delegate come out and then, if necessary, get a meeting with the boss to solve a problem. However, interstate drivers are spread from one end of the country to the other. They don’t always know where they are going to be tomorrow, let alone for a meeting next week, and many do the job to be an individual, out on their own. So few have found someone they believe can truly represent and support them.

We have NatRoad, as well as state-based associations including livestock and bulk carriers associations. They have, for many years, tried to solve industry problems.

Most of you will know I am the current president of the National Road Freighters Association (NRFA) and have been with them for nearly 10 years. When I first became involved there were very few company drivers interested; they were mainly owner-driver based and a real grass roots group of passionate truckies who wanted things improved.

Driver representation

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) is the overarching body, but a driver cannot join it direct. You can join a state-based or other association, which are then members of the ATA. Yes, there is one owner-driver and one small fleet rep on the ATA board, but that is two (the TWU is no longer represented at the ATA) out of 27, so will you be heard? Some time ago I was the ATA owner-driver representative for two years when I had temporary ownership of Ken Wilkie’s K104 and started the TruckRight Industry Vehicle idea, so I have tried that path too.

Years ago I was involved with the Australian Road Train Association, then deemed to be the grass roots trucking group, but they eventually merged with NatRoad. No matter what group there is, the more members there are, the more you can truly say you represent. Of course they need some money to operate (unless the board or governing body has a rich uncle or so), which is why you pay fees. But all too often the few who form the board carry most of the weight and put in most of the effort. Most associations or groups work the same.

Many have seen groups come along, promise the world, take your money and disappear. Each time this happens it makes it more difficult for the next person or group who want to try and make things better.

I have tried the idea of a drivers’ club, thinking it would be cheap enough for people to join and spread the load a bit more. Many said they would join, some did, but without enough structure and support and, like all of you, not enough spare time to do it all on my own and at my own cost, that did not succeed.

Members can help, but we all lead busy lives and are time-poor. While there are zoom meetings and the like, it is hard to convince people of your need or passion if you do not get to meet with them in person.

So where is this leading you ask? I have asked this before but I’m having a big push to ask: "Are you happy with the industry? Are there things you want fixed?" If you answered "yes" and you can’t do it alone, then I want you to join an industry association now. I don’t care which one, but make an effort for one year and be a part of something, not just another person wanting it all fixed by someone else.

However, whatever group you decide to join, I ask that you support the NRFA’s six-point plan.

*ROD HANNIFEY, a transport safety advocate, has been involved in raising the profile of the industry, conducting highway truck audits, the Blue Reflector Trial for informal parking bays on the Newell, the ‘Truckies on Road Code’, the national 1800 number for road repairs proposal, and the Better Roadside Rest Areas Group. Contact Rod on 0428 120 560, e-mail or visit

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