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McAleese says tragedy probe means no comment

Cootes parent firm stays mum due to police investigations while TWU releases driver survey

McAleese Group has reiterated that it is unable to comment on matters surrounding October’s fatal Cootes Tranport tanker crash in Mona Vale due to ongoing police inquiries and the eventual Coroner’s inquest.

The statement refers to Monday’s Four Corners report on truck safety and compliance.

“While assertions were made by the program with regard to the accident and subsequent matters, it is important to note that a Police investigation is ongoing and findings are yet to be made in relation to the accident or cause,” the company says of its subsidiary.

“Cootes Transport management continues to work with New South Wales Police and regulatory officers in relation to these matters. A coronial inquiry is due to be held this year.

“As a result of these ongoing investigations, McAleese Group is unable to comment on the assertions made by the program and therefore declined to participate.”

It was McAleese’s second statement in relation to the program that aired accusations that McAleese used unfit vehicles to fulfil its contracts shortly after buying a tired Cootes fleet from private Equity firm CHAMP.

Before the program aired, McAleese had said it felt unable to participate in it for the same reasons and that it felt confident that recent contractual moves would eventually stand Cootes in good stead in the long run.

“We remain very focused on improving our safety and maintenance practices in all of our businesses including Cootes Transport,” it said.

“As advised last week, we will be restructuring the Cootes Transport business during FY14.

“While this may have a short term impact on our business, we believe the decision to restructure and exit underperforming parts of the business is in the best interests of our shareholders.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has urged the Transport Workers Union to convince drivers pressured to work dangerously to report illegal incidents.

The call came after TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon unveiled a union survey of tanker drivers focusing on safety and maintenance and defended the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) as a bulwark against such practices.

“It is already an offence to pressure drivers to speed or skip rest breaks,” ATA National Manager Government Relations and Communications Bill McKinley says.

“If the TWU is serious about their allegations, they should provide the evidence to the police and road transport authorities and not just hold press conferences.”

Sheldon says a dispute would be lodged with the RSRT “seeking action to hold clients accountable for skipping safety checks and setting impossibly low pay rates or delivery times”.

The TWU says the survey gained more than 90 responses from oil tanker drivers in eastern states, with 33 per cent of respondents from NSW, 40 per cent from Victoria, 25 per cent from Queensland.

Respondents had worked in the industry for between nine months and 43 years behind the wheel. Average industry experience was 16 years.

Survey results:

  • 26 per cent of drivers were pressured to speed while driving petrol tankers
  • 49 per cent were pressured to skip rest breaks and drive while fatigued
  • 26 per cent were pressured to falsify their log books
  • 33 per cent were threatened with job losses if they report serious safety issues on sites they deliver to. 
  • 45 per cent said their employers delayed oil tanker brake maintenance to save money and keep vehicles on the road when they should be in repair.
  • 84 per cent said they have insufficient knowledge of the maintenance record of the vehicles they’re given to drive
  • One driver said their vehicle was overdue for brake repairs by 13,000km. Another said their fleet was routinely between 2,000-5,000 km overdue for brake repairs.
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