TWU threatens blockade over Melbourne port tax

Victorian Government risks truck blockade of port of Melbourne unless it rethinks port truck tax, TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon warns

TWU threatens blockade over Melbourne port tax
TWU threatens blockade over Melbourne port tax

By Rob McKay | September 10, 2010

The Victorian Government risks a truck blockade of the port of Melbourne unless it rethinks its port truck tax, Transport Workers Union National Secretary Tony Sheldon warned yesterday.

Roads and Ports Minister Tim Pallas has foreshadowed what the State Government has dubbed the Freight Infrastructure Charge (FIC), which could cost trucking companies and owner-drivers between $57 and $100 a container on some estimates.

The Victorian Transport Association (VTA) raised its objections in May.

Earlier yesterday, the TWU had flagged its opposition to the charge, claiming it would fall hard and disproportionately on those least able to bear the extra cost.

But later in the day, at a truck stop on Footscray Road, Sheldon, with an eye to the state election in two months’ time, escalated the rhetoric dramatically, reiterating the union’s stance that the charge’s imposition would have safety implications, threaten livelihoods and spark direct resistance.

"When these things have happened before, in Sydney and Fremantle, they’ve ended up with blockades," Sheldon says.

"Because what happens is that companies make a decision, drivers make a decision, owner-drivers make a decision: do I do something about it or do I lose my job or lose my business."

Sheldon was mindful of the timing of the union’s statement.

"I am very clear that the state government has made the wrong call at the wrong time to push this issue politically," he says.

"It’s also time for us to make it clear to the state government as to how are we supposed to support a state government that puts drivers at risk."

He nominated shipping and stevedoring as the most effective collection points for the charge and that this had been supported by research in other states and nationally.

Sheldon emphasised that drivers and the companies they worked for were "the price takers, not the price makers".

"They will not be able to recoup the extra charges," Sheldon says.

"That will mean pressure on drivers to do longer hours, vehicles will be less maintained because of those price pressures."

He claimed the charge had taken three years to get to this stage because it had met resistance in the state bureaucracy.

A spokesman for Pallas said the charge, originally announced in Government’s Freight Futures strategy, is aimed at maximising the efficiency of freight movement and use of the road network around the port.

It would contribute to investments in vital infrastructure announced in our Victorian Transport Plan, including $18 billion in projects to the freight industry’s benefit, such as the Truck Action Plan and WestLink – as well as encouraging off-peak use of roads accessing the port and supporting rail access to the port from regional Victoria.

"We’re working with industry and have set up a Stakeholder Advisory Group - which includes the TWU, VTA and other key players in the industry - to look at the best use of existing infrastructure and pricing mechanisms that drive behaviour changes, the spokesman says.

"Implementing this charge requires careful planning and we're committed to thorough consultation to ensure a fair system for all operators."

That elicited a stern response from VTA deputy chief executive Neil Chambers.

"The VTA has made it very clear to the Department of Transport and to the Port of Melbourne Corporation that our involvement on the Stakeholder Reference Group (SAG) in no way implies any support by the VTA and its members to the FIC," Chambers says.

"We have reserved our right to continue to oppose the tax on trucks as ill-conceived, and bad public policy by the Government, which will have grave outcomes for hard-working road transport operators who are servicing trade through the port of Melbourne in an efficient manner already.

"The comments from the Government about the VTA’s involvement in the SAG seem to suggest that we are on-board with the policy to implement the charge.

"Nothing could be further from the truth."

L.Arthur driver Les Bujaki, who was at the truck stop when the TWU rolled in, said he believed the extra charge would put pressure on trucking companies that would be felt down the line by staff.

"They might not be able to afford to [continue] and then I’d be out of a job- it’s just ridiculous," Bujaki says.

"Labor governments are supposed to be on the side of the workers."

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