Spectre rises of rates reform costing more lives than it saves

By: Rob McKay


Industry participants say impact of expected market upheaval on owner-drivers is being ignored

Spectre rises of rates reform costing more lives than it saves
Steve Shearer and SARTA are amongst those with concerns on how owner-drivers will deal with the RSRO’s downside.

 

The grim prospect of subcontractor suicides outnumbering any lives saved by the ‘safe rates’ Road Safety Remuneration Order (RSRO) is getting an increasing airing in the debate surrounding the impact of the reform.

Emotions alternating between despair and anger were on show at the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s (RSRT’s) hearing in Brisbane this week and it appears it is representative of a wider mood in the owner-driver sector.

South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) raised the issue in a members meeting last week at which Transport Workers Union (TWU) representatives were present.

In a report on that meeting to members, SARTA quotes its president, Sharon Middleton, as asking them "what responsibility is the TWU going to take for the inevitable leap in suicide by distraught contractors whose businesses and livelihoods have been destroyed by the TWU's push", without which the order would never have come about.

SARTA executive director Steve Shearer says the question was prompted by concerns being raised directly with his organisation.

In Queensland, Rocky’s Own Transport CEO Bryan Smith, who attended the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s (RSRT’s) Brisbane hearing and who made comment in support of subcontractors there, believes he is seeing a tragedy unfolding, given the profile of sector participants – predominantly middle-aged, with little experience outside the industry, some of whom are carrying debt on their vehicles.

Smith, who made comment at the RSRT hearing in support of subcontractors, believes he is seeing a tragedy unfolding, given the profile of sector participants – predominantly middle-aged, with little experience outside the industry, some of whom are carrying debt on their vehicles.

Though he has no doubt there are areas of exploitation in the industry that need addressing, he believes this cure will be more deadly than the disease as financial ruin leaves them contemplating suicide or continuing to offer their services in a market with shrinking opportunity’s this potentially will create unsafe practices. Ironically this is the very thing the RSRT was set up to address.     

Smith says the issue was raised with one of his managers by the wife of a subcontractor.

Both men say they are frustrated by denigration of those raising negative aspects or unintended consequences stemming from the structure and approach of the reform as somehow being in support of deadly practices.

Though he has no doubt there are areas of exploitation in the industry that need addressing, he believes this cure will be more deadly than the disease as financial ruin leaves them contemplating suicide. 

Along the same lines but more pungently, Shearer takes to task those making accusations of scaremongering, "as some folk pushing this Order on the Industry have pathetically resorted to calling anyone who merely points out the serious problems and devastating impracticalities of this outrageous Order".

For its part, the TWU says the RSRO will help lower what is already an awful statistic in the industry.

"Suicide and mental health issues are a huge problem among truck drivers," a union spokesperson says.

"An analysis by the coroner’s court of Victoria showed between 2008-2014 truck drivers had the highest number of suicides of any profession with 53 drivers committing suicide in the period.

"The next highest was nurses at 46 deaths and engineers and chefs at 28 deaths each. Mental illness among drivers comes from pressures of the industry including financial pressure and workplace stress.

"This Order will tackle these issues by ensuring drivers have a minimum rate for all their work. It will ensure transport contracts from wealthy retailers reflect their rates and costs – so who can pay will pay."

A Lifeline spokesman says support services exist to help people in crisis find the resources within themselves to push through difficult times.

Emergency help can be accessed at:

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467.

General support information can be found at:

 

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