Medical tests to slash insurance, but union to block

<font color=red><b>EXCLUSIVE:</b></font> Industry plans new driver accreditation scheme, but TWU threatens legal action if it happens

Medical tests to slash insurance, but union to block
Scheme to slash insurance costs, but union to block
By Brad Gardner | November 19, 2009

Industry groups are looking at a new accreditation scheme that promises to cut insurance premiums for trucking companies and shift training costs from operators to drivers.

But the Transport Workers Union (TWU) has already threatened to haul companies to court if they use the scheme.

Documents obtained by ATN show the New South Wales branch of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) met training organisations, National Transport Insurance (NTI), Woolworths and Metcash to look at introducing a psychological and behavioural test for drivers.

The test, created by Hogan Assessments, is meant to identify a person’s strengths and weaknesses to allow companies to hire individuals that best fit the job description.

Under the proposal, drivers seeking employment will need to sit the test, which gives a safety rating out of five.

Drivers will also go through a licence and history check, take a medical check and complete a skills exam online. Drivers not accredited in fatigue management will also receive training.

The total cost of the training package is estimated to be $800, according to documents from the meeting.

Jill Lewis from the ATA-NSW says the scheme will cut insurance premiums because the certified training program will show the driver takes a responsible approach to safety.

"We don’t know to what extent because we are working with NTI at the moment," Lewis says of the reduced premiums.

But TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon says it may be illegal to charge drivers $800.

"We will consider legal action against any employer that has this test," he says.

Lewis has defended the $800 fee by likening it to an apprentice purchasing their own tools.

"It’s like buying knives if you’re doing a butcher’s apprenticeship," she says.

But Lewis adds that if potential drivers cannot afford to pay they may be able to negotiate a deal with the company.

The union says the focus should be on company managers and clients because it is their actions that cause drivers to commit unsafe practices.

"When the driver is caught in the vice of a client then the pressure cascades onto the driver," Sheldon says.

Sheldon says drivers will not support the scheme, while Lewis says there are benefits for those who participate.

She says it will increase a driver’s employability and also improve public perception of the industry by showing the driver has undergone training.

Lewis says companies using the scheme may also improve their chances of securing contracts.

Although Lewis says the Hogan’s test is accurate, Sheldon has criticised the use of psychological and behavioural exams.

"These tests have been proven to be ineffectual," he says.

Lewis says an independent auditor such as RABQSA, which attended the meeting, will certify the training scheme.

But Sheldon has questioned how anyone involved in establishing the new system can be independent.

"An RTO [registered training organisation] or someone selling the proposition that we have these tests are not independent, they are making money out of it," he says.

The scheme has not been finalised and Lewis says meetings still need to be held.

The push to introduce a psychological and behavioural test follows a proposal from the ATA earlier this year for drivers to be tested for depression before gaining their licence.

The union criticised the ATA’s stance by saying the approach addressed the symptom rather than the cause of depression.

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