VTA raises nuclear option on border harmonisation

Unyielding states seen as leaving Victorian industry with little choice on SA border

VTA raises nuclear option on border harmonisation
The industry at the SA/Victoria border is between a rock and a hard place


Trapped between two states consumed with internal imperatives, the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) has raised the option of a week-long industry strike to spur the search for a solution.

At the same time, sister organisation the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) has been working to bring South Australian authorities on board with a rational approach to the handling of heavy vehicle drivers arriving from Victoria and New South Wales, though it reiterates that Victorian government’s refusal to provide testing for asymptomatic Essential Traveller (ET) heavy vehicle drivers is counterproductive.

SARTA executive officer Steve Shearer sees the stance as it relates to truck drivers, as distinct from the general public, as unhelpful and easily remedied by the Victorian government, especially given the SA government refuses point blank to jeopardise its state’s anti-pandemic success.

But with dozens of trucks turned around at the border this week, the Victorian government throwing all resources at containing the rampant virus outbreak but so far showing no hint of flexibility and with that state’s industry caught between the laws of unyielding sides, the VTA is raising the prospect of a circuit-breaking action while pleading for help to bring a resolution of some kind.

"If the situation persists, it is inevitable that freight bound for South Australia from Victoria will start to reduce," VTA CEO Peter Anderson says.

"Operators will not place drivers in a position of compromise, risk attracting huge personal fines and not be acknowledged for the work they do to support the communities.

"If common sense cannot prevail perhaps all deliveries from Victoria into South Australia should stop for up to seven days?

"It sounds extreme but how else are we going to get the message through to the South Australian government?

"Victoria is in a state of disaster. Please help us by working through this issue with Victoria."

On issues at the border, Shearer tells ATN he has advised SARTA members yesterday: "The police action in turning around some 40 to 50 rigs at Bordertown last night was the subject of a teleconference SARTA had with the commander of the COVID Coordination Group within SAPol  just prior to our meeting with four very senior SAHealth and SAPathology officials re implementation of the Code here in SA."

Police advised SARTA that drivers can still enter SA without evidence of a test in the past seven days but they must have a test within 24 hours. So there is no change to the Direction rule on this.

"However, state police are now identifying any HV drivers who have made multiple – though undefined – entries into SA within the past weeks/month and who have no evidence of any tests having been undertaken at all,"SARTA says.

That means these drivers have breached state rules – the requirement to have a test within 24 hours of entering SA where they don’t have evidence of a test within the last seven days – numerous times.

In response, SARTA had pointed out:

  • Victoria is refusing to test asymptomatic drivers so Victoria-resident drivers can not be tested in Victoria, including on their days off, as expecting them to pay $230 per week for private test is unreasonable
  • Victoria- and New South Wales-resident drivers are working whilst in SA, by and large, and, given their 14 hour shift plus one- to two-hour short rests and a seven hours sleep, they only have one hour to sit around in queues at testing stations at best, otherwise they breach their safety and legal requirements for fatigue management
  • this means they can’t realistically be tested in SA if it takes more than an hour
  • SA drivers are in the same position except they do have limited capacity to be tested on days off
  • so the only solution is a truck friendly drive-through test site at Bordertown with a turnaround of less than an hour and hopefully only 10 minutes.

Read how news of truck turnbacks at the SA border emerged, here

With police indicating agreement of that case, it was taken to the meeting with health officials, who saw the logic of the points made.

The option of a test facility for truck drivers is being considered at Bordertown or nearby, as Tailem Bend, once seen as good for the voluntary testing regime, is now deemed to be too deep within SA.

The Bordertown facility may be 24/7 but may not operate at night, though that is the peak period.

"We pushed them on adopting the Code and the ATA package, including dropping back to random testing of ET HV drivers," SARTA says.

"They agreed to a one pager that we will write, of the key facts/rules for HV drivers which SAHealth will put its logo on and we provide to industry to help correct the misunderstandings of the troops on the ground within Health and SAPOL.

"Proof of a test is being provided each time.

"We pushed for prioritisation of ET HV tests over the fear-driven asymptomatic community tests and they advised that today the problem (which is not the processing of the tests but the passing of advice to the driver by text message) is being fixed. The laboratory turnaround is 15 hours."

On the issue of Victoria’s testing regime, the VTA points huge pressure on testing resources generally in the state as it battles contain virus spread.

"Victoria is providing over 25,000 COVID tests per day to the elderly, infirmed, those already positive and those with symptom," Anderson says.

"Resources required to test, track and trace for coronavirus are already stretched, and cracks are being reported in the media every day. Victoria simply does not have the capacity to drive more and more daily COVID test into an already stretched system."

Under the circumstances, drivers and operators would not risk getting fined or break Victorian and South Australian laws that did not harmonise, and supply chain disruptions were inevitable.

"Flouting the law in South Australia carries a $1,000 fine for an individual and $5,000 fine per company," Anderson says.

"In Victoria, individual fines range from $1,652-$4,957 for not staying home when directed and between approximately $10K-$12K for businesses that do not comply with restrictions.

"To do their job, the transport operator is being asked to break either Victorian law or South Australian law."

Anderson says the interstate transport industry had proven it can operate within the law and safely crossing borders every day, whilst complying with requirements for border crossing permits, COVID Safe Plans, contact records and hygiene training. It does not have a trace of transmission of the virus into any state.

Meanwhile, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) is amplifying its dismay at how the pandemic is being handled and rejects what it sees as the negative impact of the Freight Movement Code agreed last Friday by the states and due to be implemented on Monday.

The union charges that the places the onus of complying with testing, permits and PPE on drivers and fails to deliver paid pandemic leave for drivers forced to wait for tests or to self-isolate.

"We wrote to the federal transport minister last month to explain what drivers and operators need so they could comply with COVID restrictions while keeping freight movements going," TWU national secretary Michael Kaine says.

"Instead of listening to the concerns of the industry and putting in place protections, the federal government has developed a flawed code which makes drivers responsible for ensuring compliance on testing, PPE, permits and record-keeping and is utterly silent on how drivers who don’t have access to paid pandemic leave are protected and can keep the community protected.

"This is what happens when you listen to ideological lobby groups instead of operators and workers on the ground.

"Nothing in this code will make it easier for drivers to access the complicated permits systems in various states.

"There is no attempt to address the obvious problems of disrupted supply chains, the financial hardships this has created or the problems it has piled on to drivers forced to speed, work long hours and skip rest breaks.

"The federal government is yet again silent on wealthy retailers and manufacturers at the top of the transport supply chain using the current crisis to lower rates and pile financial pressure on our industry.

"The federal government must step up and protect our industry which is a critical service and our drivers who are essential workers.

"From the start of the pandemic, road transport has struggled, with roadhouses shut to drivers and disruption in supply chains threatening businesses.

"The federal government needs to listen to the industry, put in place measures which actually address the problems on the ground and start forcing wealthy retailers and manufacturers to take responsibility since it’s their goods which are being delivered."


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