End Bluecard now, industry tells NSW

Operators and employer groups call for end to NSW industrial laws as TWU fights to retain controversial Bluecard scheme

End Bluecard now, industry tells NSW
End Bluecard now, industry tells NSW
By Brad Gardner

Operators and employer groups are pushing for an end to NSW industrial laws as the Transport Workers Union fights to retain the controversial Bluecard scheme.

The NSW StaySafe Committee has finally released stakeholder submissions to its inquiry into heavy vehicle safety that reveal widespread discontent with the State’s industrial landscape and lack of roadside facilities.

The inquiry was set up to review rest areas and the effectiveness of legislation and industrial awards on road safety, prompting responses that NSW must do more to improve the heavy vehicle sector.

Bemoaning the administrative burden of the Mutual Responsibility for Road Safety (State) Award, industry groups argue it duplicates national fatigue management laws by requiring driving plans, work diaries and responsibility to address fatigue.

NatRoad wants driver fatigue managed by the National Transport Commission’s model bill on fatigue management, saying the current situation is too complex.

"In short, there is significant industry resentment of the Award," NatRoad says, echoing submissions from the NSW Australian Trucking Association and the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association.

The groups also want the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Long Distance Truck Driver Fatigue) Regulation to be abolished, arguing that it adds another level of unnecessary red tape.

Similar to fatigue management laws, the regulation requires drivers to fill in a log book, implement driving plans and manage driving hours.

"It put[s] an additional and duplicated paperwork burden onto us, as we were already filling out log books," Murray Reed, who operates the NSW-based Reedie Road, says.

By adopting one set of nationally-agreed reforms, the NTC says governments will "ensure compliance is easy and costs are kept low for the industry".

But the TWU has raised the spectre of an increase in road deaths should any of the laws be axed, claiming they have cut the road toll at a time when other jurisdictions struggle with higher fatalities.

"Since the introduction of the laws in early 2006, the number of deaths per year in heavy vehicle incidents has fallen from 98 to 70," the union’s submission says.

"The fatigue regulation and the Award have had a significant impact on changing the safety culture of the road transport industry in the state of NSW," the TWU’s submission says.

Since its introduction, the Mutual Responsibility Award has been shrouded in controversy due to claims the TWU receives kickbacks because the company administering the Bluecard has financial links to the union.

The Award allows unfettered union access to trucking yards, requires companies to implement driving plans to manage fatigue and forces employee drivers to complete a TWU-sanctioned safety program to obtain a ‘Bluecard’.

Submissions to the inquiry were equally damning of the state of rest areas in NSW, with owner-driver Gary Stephen criticising governments for enforcing fatigue laws without first providing adequate roadside facilities.

"I would have thought that facilities needed to allow people to comply with any legislation would be provided before the legislation is passed," he writes.

Stephen has also criticised the fatigue management provision forcing drivers to rest for seven hours, saying a six-hour break is enough.

"I find that the extra hour is an inconvenience because if I do not feel tired or it is very hot it is uncomfortable sitting around waiting for time to pass," he says.

As well as raising concerns over the lack of adequate rest areas, Reed has lambasted the fatigue laws, claiming fatigue management experts cannot dictate when drivers should rest because fatigue "is an imperfect and personal science".

"This is where so-called experts really agitate professional drivers," Reed writes.

The ATA NSW wants toilets and running water at all rest areas, measures to shield drivers from traffic noise and larger areas to accommodate B-doubles.

In its submission, the lobby group complained that current facilities were "unacceptable and dysfunctional".

The StaySafe Committee will now hold public hearings before compiling a report on its findings later this year.

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