Huge Qld flooding sparks warning and roads call

QTA reminds operators of obligations as Katter urges highway sealing action

Huge Qld flooding sparks warning and roads call
Bowen Road Bridge, Townsville. Image: Peter Edwards/Twitter


With the north Queensland floods declared a disaster situation and no immediate relief forecast, the Queensland Trucking Association (QTA) has reminded transport employers of their obligations to employees during emergencies.

With major roads such as Bruce Highway cut and another 200mm of rain expected in the Townsville region over the coming days, employers unable to continue operating as a result of natural disaster must still determine employee entitlements during the closure.

"This may include offering the choice of taking accrued paid leave, or in some cases, standing employees down," QTA says.

For example, the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) provides a default right for an employer to stand down employees for a certain period "when an employee cannot usefully be employed during a period of time because of a stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible", and the employer is not required to make payments to the employee for that period.

This would apply in flash flooding which prevents employees from entering their work premises.

However, "an employer can only exercise a Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) right to stand down an employee if they cannot be usefully employed", the QTA notes.

"If an employer could obtain some benefit or value from work performed by an employee then the employer will not be able to stand down that employee.

"Where an employee is physically ‘cut off’ from attending work or they are required to care for themselves or family members, it’s desirable they remain (where they can) in constant communication with their employer. 

"It is from these discussions the employee and employer can decided upon how the absence will be treated; for example through the use of accrued paid leave and when the employee can safely return to work.

"Where a long distance driver is already ‘on duty’ and delayed because of an impassable highway the Road Transport (Long Distance Operations) Award 2010 provides that an employee must be paid for all time up to a maximum of eight hours in any period of 24 hours, at the rate 1/5th of the weekly base rate (i.e not hourly driving rate). The employee must take all reasonable steps to minimise the period of delay."

Volunteer disaster relief

Employees that are members of recognised volunteer community disaster relief organisations, such as the State Emergency Services (SES), are entitled under the National Employment Standards (NES) in the Fair Work Act to take a period of unpaid leave for the purpose of undertaking community volunteer activities associated with natural disaster, QTA says.

Under the NES, the duration of community service leave is not defined, however it must be reasonable having regard to:

  • the time the employee is engaged in the activity
  • reasonable travel time associated with the activity
  • reasonable test time following the activity.

"Employees wanting to take a period of community service leave must provide their employer with notice as soon as practicable and if required provide suitable evidence that they are a member of a recognised volunteering body and been activated for the emergency or natural disaster," the QTA says.

Katter urges infrastructure action

The destructive weather has brought the issue of its effect on key infrastructure to the fore, with federal Member for Kennedy Bob Katter renewing calls for funding to finish sealing the Hann Highway as an alternative inland route from Cairns to Melbourne, along with completing the two-lane sealing of the Gulf Development Road between Mt Surprise and Georgetown .

There is still 60km of Hann Highway remaining to be sealed.

"It provides an alternate road to the Bruce Highway when it floods, which happens at least once each year, which will ensure continued access to markets year round," Katter says.

"It will ensure that North Queensland’s products, whether fruit and vegetables or cattle, gets down to the southern markets faster. It will allow road trains to travel the entire distance without needing to unhook their trailers, drastically reducing cost, maintenance, fuel and fatigue management.

"It will save both in terms of fuel footprint and the increasing cost of congestion, maintenance and upgrade on the Bruce Highway."

Read more about the far north Queensland 'Flood watch' in 2018, here

In the past 18 months, four people have died on the Gulf Development Road, which stretches about 442km along north-west Queensland and connects the greater Cairns region to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

"Travellers and large road trains travel frequently across the one-lane bitumen stretch of road including fishing freight, fuelling trucks, cattle trucks and general freight; some vehicles are as wide as the road.

"This is our national highway, single-lane, falling to pieces on the edges.

"How many more deaths have we got to have? This is the national highway – it’s ‘Highway 1’.

"To initiate funding to complete the two-lane sealing, with these funds directed to the local councils, would be a step in the right direction."

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has also posted links for operators to keep updated, below: 

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