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Deadly life of a truckie

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Truckies deserve fair wages and conditions and the ability to be able to come home to their family safely at night, writes TONY SHELDON.

Truckies are the men and women who keep the food on the shelves, the fuel in the pumps and transport the goods from their factories. But the life of a truck driver is tough.

Every day across Australia, truck drivers and transport companies are forced to meet unrealistic demands and impossible deadlines, on dangerously low rates of pay set by big corporate clients, no matter what.

That’s why truckies and their families have been fighting for Safe Rates for more than 20 years.

Safe Rates provide drivers with enough revenue to properly maintain their vehicles, to drive safely without having to meet impossible deadlines, and to earn a fair wage that allows them to put food on the family table.

Safe Rates make our trucking sector viable and sustainable – and they save lives.

Truck driving is the most dangerous job you can do in Australia, with a fatality rate that is 11 times higher than the average for other workers.

And of course, when a truck driver’s safety is at risk, so is the safety of everyone else on the road.

Every year, hundreds of people are killed and thousands more are seriously injured in truck crashes, devastating families and communities right across the country.

In the past week alone we have seen six people tragically killed and a number of others seriously injured in truck crashes.

The link between rates of pay from truck drivers and road safety was put squarely on the table in a 2008 report from Lance Wright QC and Professor Michael Quinlan to the National Transport Commission.

The report stated: “There is solid evidence linking payment levels and systems to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use. This evidence has been accepted and indeed confirmed by government inquiries, coronial inquests, courts and industrial tribunal hearings in Australia over a number of years.”

Similarly, NSW Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch found that: “As long as driver payments are based on a (low) rate per kilometer there will always be an incentive for drivers to maximize the hours they drive, not because they are greedy but simply to earn a decent wage.”

Right now, the biggest pressure on drivers is coming from the big retail bosses wielding their enormous market power.

Just as companies like Coles are hammering farmers and food producers by driving down purchase prices at the farm gate, the same companies are squeezing truck drivers and trucking companies.

A recent survey of almost 1000 drivers found that 40 per cent of drivers who do work for Coles admitted to delaying essential vehicle maintenance because they simply couldn’t afford it.

Liberal Party MP Craig Kelly has seen the way big retailers operate, and the way they treat transport contractors.

Mr Kelly told Federal Parliament: “The supermarket duopoly have been taking advantage of their centralised power to hold trucking companies and our drivers to ransom by giving them unreasonable deadlines and penalising them if they are delayed by even just a few minutes.’’

With a Federal election looming however, truck drivers are extremely worried that things will get worse.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says that a Coalition Government would “urgently review” the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal – the body established by Federal Parliament one year ago to deliver safer rates for truck drivers and help reduce the number of serious truck crashes on our roads.

Perhaps Mr Abbott should talk to some of his Coalition parliamentary colleagues who understand what is happening on our roads.

After the Parliamentary Inquiry into trucking and road safety, National Party MP Paul Neville said he was deeply affected by seeing and hearing the first-hand stories of truck driving families that had been torn apart by road accidents.

“I met with Johanna de Beer, a mother who had lost her son; Lystra Tagliaferri, a wife who had lost her husband; Lisa Sawyer, a sister who had lost a brother; Suzanne de Beer, a wife whose husband has been killed; and Stella Minos, the wife of an owner-driver. I was deeply moved by their circumstances,” he said.

Dean Whalan, an owner-driver from Minchinbury in Western Sydney knows what is at risk if important reforms like the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal are wound back.

“Getting safe and fair rates for truckies on the national agenda has been a tough battle,” Dean says.

“It will be an absolute tragedy if 20 years of progress is thrown away by a Government more interested in what’s good for big business rather than us truckies who are just trying to get by.”

Truckies deserve fair wages and conditions and the ability to be able to come home to their family safely at night and all motorists deserve safe roads.

Source: illawarra Mercury

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