'Safe rates' spat goes public

Divisions re-emerge in ATA's ranks, as fight heats up over safe rates

'Safe rates' spat goes public
'Safe rates' spat goes public
By Brad Gardner| July 9, 2009

Divisions within the Australian Trucking Association have once again emerged, with claims the nation’s peak lobby group is ignoring driver safety.

Following a speech yesterday by ATA Chief Executive Stuart St Clair, the group has been forced to fend off criticisms from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) over its view on how to improve safety.

During St Clair’s speech to the National Press Club in Canberra, the union, which is a member of the ATA, converged on the nation’s capital in protest.

TWU Federal Secretary Tony Sheldon claims St Clair and figures within the ATA are opposing any moves to help drivers earn a decent pay and urged the group to support fixed freight rates.

"Under Mr St Clair’s leadership, the ATA has repeatedly denied that poorly paid drivers are forced into unsafe practices. This is despite coroners and inquiries repeatedly calling for an overhaul of payment systems for drivers," Sheldon says.

"Why won’t the ATA support a system which sets a minimum of pay so drivers can re-coup costs, including fluctuating fuel prices and wages from clients?"

But a spokesman for the ATA has denied the group opposes safety in the industry and that Sheldon’s criticism is unwarranted.

"His claims are utterly wrong," the spokesman says, referring to St Clair’s speech as evidence the ATA is big on safety.

During his speech, St Clair focussed on a report into truck crashes from National Transport Insurance (NTI), saying fatigue and inappropriate speed were responsible for almost half of the accidents.

He also told attendees greater investment in the road network would help cut the fatality rate, but urged also urged greater action on rest areas.

"Our drivers need rest areas where they can take a break – not just on the highways, but in urban areas as well."

St Clair says governments can improve safety by allowing the industry to use state-of-the-art B-triple combinations with the latest safety features.

The ATA is also proposing an optional training scheme for drivers to improve skills and learn safety, correct load restraints, fatigue management and fist aid.

St Clair, however, did not mention ‘safe rates’.

Despite this, a spokesman for the ATA says it has no position on whether government should intervene in the marketplace.

According to the spokesman, ‘safe rates’ is an industrial issue which the ATA will not comment on because it is not an industrial body.

"We do not oppose the TWU’s position, but we do not support it," the spokesman says.

The comments contradict a submission authored by the ATA last year opposing ‘safe rates’.

"Our submission argues that a ‘safe rates’ regime will not improve or resolve the behavioural and operational issues which need to be addressed if improved safety outcomes are to be achieved," ATA Chairman Trevor Martyn said at the time.

According to Martyn, it is "a false argument" to think setting rates will achieve more than fatigue management laws or greater on-road enforcement measures.

But if asked to comment on ‘safe rates’ if it goes before parliament to be voted on, the ATA spokesman says the group’s position will be: "It is not an issue we have a view on."

The chief executive of the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA), Steve Shearer, disagrees with the claim ‘safe rates’ is an industrial issue.

Shearer, who previously chaired the ATA’s safety committee, co-authored the submission and is continuing to campaign against fixed rates.

"Our [SARTA’s] position will be that it will continue to be a safety issue, but that is not the position of the ATA," Shearer tells ATN

He says the ATA determined it was an industrial issue after Professor Michael Quinlan last year released his findings into remuneration methods in the trucking sector.

"If the ATA had come to the view that it was an industrial issue [before then], then the submission wouldn’t have been made," Shearer says.

Shearer is currently authoring a letter to Minister for Industrial Relations Julia Gillard urging the Rudd Government to rethink its support of the TWU’s campaign.

"We [SARTA] refute the TWU’s proposal because it is built on a false premise," Shearer says.

He says there is not enough evidence to support the claim that paying drivers more will improve road safety.

Shearer argues that chain of responsibility measures and fatigue management laws are improving safety and has accused Sheldon of misleading the Government by claiming fixed rates is the answer.

"He is not being genuine," Shearer says.

"All but a few idiots are accepting the reality that what they did before is no longer viable. Bad operators are getting pinged."

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