Transport groups unite behind TWU to support 'safe rates'

Big-name carriers back system of mandated minimum rates, with Government “100 percent committed” to cause

Transport groups unite behind TWU to support 'safe rates'
Transport groups unite behind TWU to support 'safe rates'
By Brad Gardner| July 29, 2009

Some of the country’s largest trucking operators have thrown their support behind a system of mandated minimum rates, as the Federal Government declares it is "100 percent committed" to the cause.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) drew politicians, academics and big-name truck operators to a summit on the issue in Sydney this morning, building momentum behind the long-time union campaign.

Some of the biggest names in transport and logistics – including Linfox, Star Track Express and Ron Finemore Transport – urged the Government to press ahead with legislating rates structures in the industry.

Linfox human resources boss Laurie D’Apice and Star Track’s representative both expressed support for the TWU campaign, while Finemore Transport chief Laurie Brothers also said rates must be mandated.

Major transport customer Bluescope Steel has an award-winning focus on transport safety standards, but company representative Ingilby Dickson says safe rates is the next step.

"We need to move forward," he told the summit.

But he believes the industry needs a structured transition to any new pay system, with enough time for truck operators and customers to adapt.

Arthur Tzaneros, the Managing Director of Sydney-based operator Australian Container Freight Services (ACFS), labels the treatment of sub-contractors as "the biggest blight on our industry" and says something needs to be done.

"We fully support it [safe rates]," he said. "I think it is a must."

But Tzaneros says the Government needs to be wary of over-regulating the industry.

"I would hate to see a new law put in place that adds additional compliance when compliance is already in place for those companies following fatigue laws and reporting accordingly," he said.

Tzaneros explained all his drivers are accredited under basic fatigue management (BFM), while staff who allocate drivers to trucks have the higher advanced fatigue management (AFM) module to match drivers to the task. An OH&S committee meets every month to discuss risk management.

Victorian Transport Association CEO Phil Lovel called for a holistic approach to managing safety, saying there needs to be emphasis on initiatives like rest areas, better road signage and driver training rather than simply on rates.

Today’s summit, on the eve of the Labor Party national conference in Sydney, was chaired by former New South Wales premier Bob Carr and included State Roads Minister Michael Daley along with TWU delegates and representatives from other trade unions.

A manager from supermarket giant Coles was also in attendance, along with National Transport Commission (NTC) Chief Executive Nick Dimopoulos.

The NTC reported on pay systems in the trucking industry last year, with academics arguing a direct link between wages and safety and urging the Federal Government to legislate driver rates.

Previous reports from University of NSW Professor Michael Quinlan have also argued the link. Quinlan attended today’s session and reiterated the case for change in the industry.

Associate Professor Michael Belzer from Wayne State University spoke via phone hook-up about the findings of a survey in the United States showing a direct link between pay rates and safety outcomes.

He cited one study with transport group JB Hunt, one of the largest truck operators in the US. In 1995 the company set about fixing a 96 percent turnover rate in drivers, focussing on retention, hiring experienced drivers and raising wages by 38 percent.

For every increase in pay the company found there was a 36 percent lower crash rate probability, Belzer says.

Another study of 102 carriers over one year found for every 10 percent increase in pay there was a 9.2 percent lower crash rate among drivers.

"Low-paid drivers under severe work pressure are more likely to make mistakes, leading to crashes," Belzer said.

Labor powerbroker Mark Arbib, the Minister for Employment Participation, told the summit Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard was "100 percent committed to this issue".

Arbib himself threw his personal support behind the campaign, saying he has long been passionate about a safer trucking industry.

A working group has been set up within Gillard’s office to look into legislation, Arbib revealed, but he warned there was no easy fix.

"These are not simple laws," he said. "The Government accepts it will take time."

But he says the issue is a top priority for the Government, with passage of new industrial relations laws complete.

"This will be an issue right at the forefront," he said.

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