BREAKTHROUGH: Govts poised to scrap fatigue inconsistency

NTC proposal obtained by SCR sister magazine ATN calls on governments to abolish inconsistent fatigue counting rules

BREAKTHROUGH: Govts poised to scrap fatigue inconsistency
BREAKTHROUGH: Govts poised to scrap fatigue inconsistency

By Brad Gardner | April 1, 2011

Governments are poised to abolish inconsistent fatigue management counting rules that have unfairly left interstate trucking operators exposed to unintentional breaches.

SCR's sister title AustraliasianTrucking News (ATN)
has obtained a National Transport Commission proposal submitted late last month to state and territory transport ministers arguing for all jurisdictions to immediately apply the same counting rules.

Queensland and NSW currently use the same system, whereas Victoria and South Australia use a different model.

The variation means drivers compliant in Queensland and NSW are in breach of their fatigue obligations when they cross into South Australia and Victoria.

"The inconsistency across states has caused confusion in the trucking industry, and unjust outcomes for a number of drivers inadvertently breaching work hours when crossing into South Australia or Victoria," the NTC document reads.

Currently, Queensland and NSW determine if a driver has breached their fatigue requirements within a 24-hour period by counting from the end of a major rest break.

As the NTC document points out, Victoria and South Australia count "24 hour periods from the end of any rest break, which often results in several overlapping 24 hour periods being counted".

The NTC labels the variations "confusing, impractical and unfair in practice" and says they undermine the intent of fatigue management laws.

"The major issue is that a driver can breach the work hours over a 24 hours period by simply taking a short break earlier than scheduled," the document says.

"This undermines the intent of the fatigue laws and has been judged problematic by fatigue experts."

While the NTC wants all states to immediately revert to the system in place in NSW and Queensland, there is no certainty interstate operators will see instant results.

"Jurisdictions will adopt the amendment in accordance with their legislative frameworks and timelines," the document reads.

An industry-led campaign exposed problems last year when a Queensland driver was slapped with seven breaches in Victoria despite meeting all his requirements in his home state.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) last month successfully defended two drivers charged with similar offences in South Australia.

"This has been an ongoing issue for our members who drive interstate, so from the start we were in for the long haul in the fight to get it fixed," TWU NSW State Secretary Wayne Forno told ATN.

"Now after 15 months of fighting we are happy to be able to say that all interstate drivers stand to benefit from this as well as drivers who work within SA and Victoria. These changes are set to give them a safer and easier system to comply with."

Forno congratulated the NTC on the submission and says it is now up to state and territory transport ministers to give the industry consistent fatigue counting rules.

"The next step is for the relevant ministers in each state and territory to make this change happen. I encourage all relevant ministers to support these changes," he says.

TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon labelled the proposed changes to counting rules was a big win for the NSW branch.

"The members who stood their ground, Wayne Forno and the NSW branch deserve to be congratulated for taking up the fight. Because of them the industry is going to take a step in the right direction," Sheldon says.

Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA) Executive Director Philip Halton has welcomed the NTC’s proposal and praised the TWU.

"Livestock transporters are delighted that the TWU worked so strongly on this issue," he says.

Halton says the union was the only group with the money and willpower to fight on behalf of truck drivers.

"The reality is they had the money and the backbone. That has helped a lot. The union needs to be saluted for its outstanding work."

"The ALTA has also appreciated the support of David Simon, chair of the Australian Trucking Association, and Philip Crook of Toll who we know have made some high level approaches in Victoria."

Halton praised NTC CEO Nick Dimopoulos and Chairman Greg Martin for engaging with industry and taking up its case for change. He says Dimopoulos showed an "extraordinary amount of energy" in getting the situation resolved.

Following the court case in March, the South Australian Crown Solicitor’s Office contacted the NSW TWU to say counting rules would be reviewed.

The push for reform comes despite claims by the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) that counting rules will not be amended.

"The law is just like it was yesterday and the day before and it will continue to be that way for some time, probably until there’s a single national regulator," SARTA Executive Director Steve Shearer said last month.

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