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TWU bites back on Black at ATA over ACCC letter

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Union questions possible links between ATA and competition watchdog

TWU bites back on Black at ATA over ACCC letter
Michael Kaine

 

More blows have been struck in the feud between the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) and the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) over the competition watchdog’s warning letter to Frank Black.

Black, the TWU-backed owner driver representative of the ATA’s General Council, has received an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warning letter over comments made in one of his regular opinion pieces in ATN’s sister publication, Owner Driver.

The TWU has taken the ACCC to task on the approach, while ATA CEO Ben Maguire cast Black as the author of his own misfortune.

Now TWU national secretary Michael Kaine has written to Maguire to express "disappointment" with the lack of support for Black and ask pointed questions on how the ACCC came to identify and locate Black.

But Maguire tells ATN it referred nothing to the ACCC.

"During the pandemic and as always, our focus has been on representing our members and getting results," he says.

"With our members, we successfully lobbied to keep all of Australia’s freight moving.

"We secured the 50 per cent investment allowance, won a six month extension to the instant asset write off and stopped the planned increase in truck fuel and registration charges.

"We also campaigned to keep rest area and customer site facilities open for drivers.

"The ATA did not refer Frank Black’s column to the ACCC, who I would imagine are capable of discovering columns in the media all by themselves.

"Since I did not get the right to respond to Michael’s letter before the TWU published it, I would ask him to understand that I may not reply.

"I’m sure that everybody would agree that genuine and professional correspondence between parties should be respected, instead of grandstanding."

The spat is the latest in a deteriorating series that gained most heat during the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) and, later, the ejection of the union from the ATA.

Kaine’s letter to Maguire reads:

Dear Ben,

We write to you in response to your statement regarding the threats by the ACCC against the owner driver representative of the ATA’s General Council, Frank Black.

We are disappointed to read that instead of defending Frank’s right to his opinion and querying, as many have done, the bizarre ACCC letter which accuses him of instigating a cartel, you have chosen to attack him.

Frank raised legitimate concerns that drivers consistently have and which have been exacerbated at this time of crisis, namely the pressure on rates. In the column he spoke about drivers forced to work below cost. He spoke of the sacrifices that drivers are making to take on extra work in case work dries up altogether.

Any organisation with the word "trucking" in its title should support these concerns, let alone one such as the ATA which was set up with the express intention of improving standards in the industry.

The ATA will be aware that hundreds of transport businesses become insolvent each year, mainly because of lack of capital. The ATA will also be aware that trucking is Australia’s deadliest industry and that the pressure to drive long hours, speed and delay repairs to truck is linked to low rates.

Frank’s column about rates should have been a clarion call for your organisation to act, not a chance to side with a regulator acting well beyond its remit. We are concerned that the ATA’s statement on this issue could have the effect of muzzling other drivers from speaking out about dangerously low rates.

It is now clearer than ever that the ATA does not have the interests of drivers at heart. With the ATA defending the heavy-handed actions by the Government regulator and its attack on a veteran member of the transport community it is also clear that your organisation is also no real friend of the transport industry.

In light of the disturbing turn of events and the ATA’s intervention, I would request a reply to the following questions:

1. What are the links, personal or professional, between the ATA and the ACCC?

2. Did the ATA or anyone linked to the organisation alert the ACCC to Frank Black’s April column in Owner Driver?

3. Did the ATA or anyone linked to the organisation supply the ACCC with Frank Black’s personal contact details?

4. Does the ATA believe that rates for owner drivers and transport operators are sufficient and do not need to be raised?

5. Does the ATA believe that it is acceptable for drivers and operators to work for rates that are below cost?

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