Sterle raises shortfalls with McCormack as concern rises in industry
While there is belated recognition in the mainstream media of the crucial role trucking and truck drivers play in keeping the country civilised, the message appears to have been short-circuited elsewhere due to the coronavirus Covid-19 crisis and related fears.
The result is a public raising of serious concerns, specifically around actions being taken at roadhouses or related to their operations.
Leading the charge is Senator Glenn Sterle, who, after raising the problem has written to federal transport minister Michael McCormack with highly concerning details he and his office have fielded this week.
“Over the last 48 hours, I have received alarming reports from transport associations and drivers about situations that Australia’s truck drivers are facing at roadhouses across the country.”
He says that, at some sites:
- shower facilities are being closed. In some cases, people are being asked to prove that they are a truck driver before they are let in and then are being locked in until they have finished
- toilet facilities are being denied
- due to staff shortages at some roadhouses, facilities aren’t even being cleaned
- drivers are being told that they cannot access meals onsite in air-conditioned areas. “Drivers are instead being forced to eat outside in the heat and amongst flies. For some drivers, this is the only guaranteed rest break that they can take while driving long haul”
- due to take away options only being available now, healthy food options for drivers are limited. this could have severe impacts on drivers who have specific dietary requirements for health reasons
- due to the size of trucks, drivers are prevented from accessing some fast food retailers all together
- at some roadhouses, food sections are being closed completely
- drivers being prevented from using the rest/lounge areas while on break.
Sterle also raises more general issues.
These include drivers:
- are being asked to leave their supplied accommodation during the night without warning
- not being provided with personal protective equipment to carry out their job
- running out of sanitiser and at some sites, have limited washing facilities for not only their vehicles but for themselves as well
- having no protections when they enter distribution centres to load or unload. “Drivers have to use the same phone to gain entry and there are obvious health concerns associated with that and around how to complete paperwork without the appropriate and recommended safety equipment”
“All of the above points have a direct impact on a driver’s ability to be able to manage their fatigue,” Sterle continues.
“During this pandemic, our truckies are supplying our shops and making sure that valuable freight is getting to where it needs to go on a daily basis, all while being away from their loved ones.
“They deserve much better than this.
“Being a truck driver is a hard and extremely stressful job. As a former owner driver, running between Perth and Darwin, I understand better than anyone in the Parliament the pressures our truckies face every day.
“Fatigue management, tight delivery deadlines and the fear of not being paid in an adequate time frame to name a few. Drivers do not need the added fear of not knowing when they are going to be able to have a shower, use a toilet or have a feed during the Covid-19 crisis.”
The Western Australian ALP senator goes on to offer to work with McCormack, industry players, owner drivers, transport associations and the Transport Workers Union “to come up with solutions that will ensure that our truckies are safe and have the best possible working conditions available to them during this difficult time”.
A belief that the message is yet to sink in amongst trucking customers and facility managers is strong at the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA).
The organisation states that while the industry, truck drivers and governments are stepping up in the face of the crisis, ingrained attitudes ranging from ignorance to contempt in some segments of the economy is undermining their efforts.
“One group … needs to lift their game; the logistics operators and others who receive freight at their facilities and depots,” SARTA CEO Steve Shearer says.
“Too many of them are treating truck drivers like lepers and pariahs.
“They won’t even allow our drivers to use the toilet or have a coffee etc.
“They are demanding that our drivers use hand sanitiser but they don’t provide it nor soap and a place for our drivers to wash their hands.
“It’s despicable that these wealthy organisations expect and demand that we keep their businesses and the community alive by getting the freight through but they show no interest in looking after the linchpin – the truck drivers.
“The logistic sector, which is led by the Australian Logistics Council, needs to lift its eyes from its balance sheet and do the right thing and welcome and look after our drivers, or they won’t have businesses and balance sheets to worry about.
“All operators of truck stops need to step up and let our drivers eat, drink, use toilets and take a shower.”
SARTA notes that the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) and the federal and state governments are working provide an exemption from the order to close all restaurants to ensure they are able to feed truck drivers legally.
“We plead with all truckstops to also allow drivers to use the toilets and showers and keep them clean for drivers,” Shearer says.
“The truck industry can’t keep the country fed if the country doesn’t feed and look after our drivers.”
It is understood the ALC has been fielding industries queries on the subject.
“The best advice for everyone is to raise and deal with issues directly as they emerge in a calm and collegiate manner,@CEO Kirk Coningham tells ATN.
“The good news is that our industry has been very successful in doing just this over the past several weeks.
“We need to work together during this difficult time to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone working in the supply chain and the communities we serve.”
In a separate statement, the peak body says: “ALC is in constant contact with the ministers, regulators and other officials helping to shape Australia’s Covid-19 response, as well as with other industry bodies and organisations to make sure we get through this together.
“Sharing ‘real life’ examples can be incredibly effective when we’re explaining to decision-makers why we need quick policy change, or to highlight what more can done on the ground to help make our industry’s task easier.
“Over the past few days, we’ve heard from people across all modes of freight transport with suggestions for practical assistance, or problems they are encountering when going about their work.
“Sometimes, these issues can be fixed though a quick conversation with a minister or by working cooperatively with our industry allies to develop a solution.”
The Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) NSW Branch is also concerned about truck-driver amenity and treatment.
It calls on the National Cabinet to ensure:
- owners of service stations, service centres, road houses and other facilities to implement measures to ensure
- truck drivers can continue to eat, shower, go to the toilet and rest in a safe, comfortable and dignified manner
- whenever they use their premises.
“This means ensuring an exemption is in place for these facilities to serve food and beverages in an environment in which truck drivers can sit while adopting acceptable social distancing measures,” ARTIO NSW secretary/treasurer Hugh McMaster says.
“This will also give truck drivers the opportunity to manage their fatigue in the interests of all road users and to ensure they have the opportunity through appropriate meal choices to address health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
“This practical measure needs to be put in place quickly to minimise risk exposure to Covid-19 by ensuring all truck drivers have full access to these facilities whenever they stop and rest.
“ARTIO NSW understands why recent announcements by governments aimed at minimising the spread of Covid-19 have led to restrictions on eating, resting, going to the toilet and showering at these facilities.
“However, they deny a truck driver access to working conditions to which we are all entitled.
“ARTIO NSW urges owners to move swiftly to obtain the necessary workers and supplies to ensure they continue to offer a safe, clean, welcoming environment for truck drivers.
“Clear communication is also necessary to explain why facilities may have to operate differently for the benefit of workers at these facilities, and for truck drivers, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“ARTIO NSW understands representatives of regulatory bodies are in consultation with the owners of these facilities and we urge them to ensure practical, workable measures are developed and implemented so the freight all Australians rely on can continue to be delivered safely by truck drivers working under decent working conditions.
“Importantly, ARTIO NSW also appreciates that service stations, service centres, road houses and other facilities have lost a significant amount of trade which will not recover in the foreseeable future and even maintaining staff levels would have a potentially devastating impact on cash flow.
“National Cabinet should consider whatever steps are necessary to ensure service stations, service centres, road houses and other facilities remain open.
“It should not rule out additional direct financial support to ensure at least a basic network of these facilities continues to operate on our interstate highways and key intrastate routes.
“The alternative is the risk of closure of service stations, service centres, road houses on these strategically important routes.”
Road Freight NSW (RFNSW) is calling for greater understanding and patience from the customers of truckies, who are now working around-the-clock, under increasing pressure, to deliver essential food and grocery items during the Covid-19 crisis.
RFNSW chief executive Simon O’Hara also urges companies to act in good faith and pay industry invoices within terms, to avoid small transport operators going to the wall.
He notes some RFNSW members report being owed over $100,000 in overdue payments.
This was significantly impeding cash flow and putting further strain on the viability of their businesses, many of which are family-run operations, already struggling financially before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The freight industry is doing an exceptional job in very difficult circumstances, working day and night to get essential food and groceries on to supermarket shelves across NSW,” O’Hara says.
“We understand that these are trying times for all of us, but RFNSW is reaching out to our members’ customers asking them to be mindful of the complexities of moving freight during the Covid-19 emergency response.
“Rest assured, trucking operators are doing the best they can to get this essential freight moving, but they’re still experiencing choke points across the supply chain, mainly at distribution centres [DC] and supermarkets and there is little they can do to alleviate those delays.
“Taking a letter-and-line approach with truckies, that might be understandable in normal circumstances, is really unhelpful and only adds to what is a stressful situation.
“On behalf of our members, RFNSW is asking that we’re all a little more patient and flexible.
“We ask that the community appreciates while increasing numbers of people are now working from home as part of new social-distancing measures, transport operators are still out on the roads, waiting in long queues of up to five-six hours.
“They’re working as hard as they can, while taking-on more unexpected debt and the risk of exposure, as a result of this crisis.”
RFNSW reiterated calls for freight and ports to be declared critical infrastructure, in order for essential trade to continue to flow through NSW ports and into the supply chain and avoiding a return to panic buying in the community.