Sheldon hits out at safety standards, defends Bluecard

By: Jason Whittaker

Current safety standards must be overhauled and uniform fair pay rates introduced to prevent driver exploitation as well as to

Current safety standards must be overhauled and uniform fair pay rates introduced to prevent driver exploitation as well as to boost safety in the trucking industry, according to Transport Workers Union (TWU) Federal Secretary Tony Sheldon.

In an exclusive interview with ATN Sheldon outlined a number of safety issues currently affecting the industry while blasting critics of the controversial Bluecard system who claim it is burdensome and should not apply.

The union boss says the Transport Industry Mutual Responsibility for Road Safety (State) Award and Contract Determination advances industry safety, and has questioned the motives of those condemning it.

"For any Australian to make that sort of line is scandalous and is verging on letting off scot-free the top-end that are literally killing people through their economic pressure," he says.

"Why would somebody want to oppose a safe system of work under the guise of productivity?"

Sheldon says some of the groups opposed to the Award were the reason as to why it was introduced. Furthermore, he warned against those planning on challenging the legality of the Award.

"We are going to enforce the intent of that agreement across the State," he says.

The union powerbroker argues for mutual responsibility laws to be enforced nationwide and for governments to adopt new measures in addressing safety in the transport industry.

"I would argue that the best [safety] standards are not good enough because we have got too many people dying," he says.

Sheldon blames major retail chains for pushing up death rates, accusing them of acting irresponsibly in regards to driver fatigue. He says companies are using their economic clout to pressure drivers to work excessive hours under the threat of financial penalties.

"Major corporations such as retailers squeeze people down the line," he says. "The fatigue responsibility of the retailers is virtually non-existent."

And it appears the problems are exacerbated as retail profit margins tighten. According to Sheldon, margins have decreased the last decade which means drivers are being paid less while companies are outsourcing more of their own work in order to slash costs.

These factors, Sheldon says, are causing the industry to cut corners, leading to poorer safety conditions.

To combat this, he wants legislation introduced that will not only ensure a fair national pay rate for owner-drivers as well as employees, but a system that penalises principle employers for forcing drivers to wait in line or for reasons outside of the driver’s control.

"We will continue to argue that there needs to be national and appropriate state systems to reflect what the actual safe rates should be," he says.

"And a safe rate for me means that trucking companies should be paid for waiting time; client should pay."

The TWU is increasingly hopeful national legislation will soon be introduced now Labor is in power at all levels of government across Australia.

While the previous regime — by way of powers granted under WorkChoices — refused to recognise a Western Australian system of rate structures that were to be introduced, Sheldon is confident Rudd Labor will take a different approach.

"I would expect there to be appropriate movement in Western Australia and I expect there to be serious discussions on the whole issue of safe rates whether they be for employees or owner-drivers," he says.

While welcoming the federal Minister for Transport Anthony Albanese’s announcement of $70 million safety package over four years for the industry — Sheldon says it "is a good shot in the arm as a start" — he says more must be done.

"There has to be a holistic approach to truck stops," he says.

"I think we should also be going out to the states and saying, ‘Let’s start coughing up money for truck stops."

While the windfall from recent hikes in registration and fuel charges may be seen as a funding source for more rest stops, Sheldon wants the extra revenue to be spent on "the three pillars that make a difference ... in the trucking industry" — occupational healthy and safety, road and industrial laws.

He also wants more spent on enforcement measures to stamp out illegal practices on the part of major corporations pushing drivers to exceed working limits. He says a renewed focus on health and safety, backed up with financial investment, will end dangerous practices.

"We have to go after the Mr Bigs in this," he says.

"The Mr Bigs are the ones driving economic pressure to have people carry out unsafe practices either intentionally or without responsibility."

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