TWU targets Warren Truss over safe rates claims

Warren Truss’s criticism of safe rates draws union ire amid accusations ATA is briefing the Nationals leader to oppose reform

TWU targets Warren Truss over safe rates claims
TWU targets Truss over safe rates claims
By Brad Gardner | September 9, 2011

Nationals leader Warren Truss’s criticism of safe rates has drawn the ire of the union movement amid contested accusations the Australian Trucking Association is briefing the political veteran to oppose the reforms.

Transport Workers Union (TWU) National Secretary Tony Sheldon has vowed to pursue the Coalition’s transport spokesman after he dismissed the idea that reforming trucking pay rates would improve heavy vehicle safety.

Sheldon says the TWU is planning a chat with Truss "to show him pages and pages of reports" identifying a link between low rates of pay and poor safety standards in the trucking industry.

"I have never had a face-to-face conversation with Warren Truss on the issue and I would be pleased to have it," Sheldon says.
"I don’t know what makes Warren Truss tick but it’s not facts and reality."

The TWU has long been calling for government intervention on trucking rates, saying drivers are forced into unsafe practices because of commercial pressure from big-name clients.

As well as saying Truss should review his claims, Sheldon states: "I think he should stop taking phone calls from the ATA."

Despite strong denials from the peak lobby group, the union boss claims it is in contact with Truss and feeding him lines on safe rates.

When asked to name the person involved, Sheldon responded: "[ATA CEO] Stuart St Clair."

He claims Truss’s comments match St Clair’s views, but the latter says the ATA has not spoken to Truss about safe rates.

"We’re not in that business. I’m sure the alternative government’s got their own views and their own thoughts on safe rates and obviously Warren Truss has articulated those," St Clair says.

He referred to Sheldon’s recent outburst against Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans, which included likening the Labor senator to a dead man for his lack of action on safe rates.

"It seems funny that he wants to attack his own people first of all, then he wants to attack the alternative government and when he doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere he wants to have a lash at us," St Clair says.

"It sounds like the ideas of a desperate person wanting to try and find someone to blame."

Truss contradicted a 2008 National Transport Commission report that found a link between pay and safety when told ATN this week "safe rates is a spurious argument at best".

"If the [Transport Workers] Union can demonstrate a connection between fixing higher wages for drivers and safer roads then there would be a cause the look at the issue, but there simply isn’t any data or rationale that makes the case."

Sheldon points to the work of US Professor Michael Belzer, who found that every 10 percent increase in pay rates led to an 18.7 percent drop in the likelihood of a crash.

"The reality stacks up on our case," he says.

The authors of the NTC report, Professor Michael Quinlan and Lance Wright QC, reference government inquiries, coronial inquests, courts and industrial tribunal hearings in arguing there is evidence of a connection between pay and safety.

The Federal Government has accepted a link and is planning on responding next month to a discussion paper it released last year outlining possible reforms to create a safe rates scheme.

Sheldon, who wants a dispute resolution tribunal established to rule on what constitutes a safe rate, says there will be "a significant statement coming out in the coming weeks" from the government.

He has also issued a message to safe rates opponents.

"Don’t stand in the way of saving people’s lives and getting justice from the big end of town."

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