New England Greens candidate Mercurius Goldstein offers the following reflections on the abolition of the Road Safety Review Tribunal.
THIS week the Liberal-Nationals government, with the support of independent crossbench Senators, abolished a floor price for owner-operator truck drivers, who now have no minimum price for their labour or time.
One independent Senator who sought to protect fair pay rates for truckies was Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiasts’ Party.
The fact that a Senator who is very knowledgeable about these road transport issues chose to side with the Greens on this matter should give readers pause for thought.
The road transport industry, broadly defined, employs some 2.3 per cent of the workforce.
It is a larger employment sector than mining or air transport, yet it has far less favourable wages, health and safety conditions for its workers.
These are drivers who work very hard year-round, and who take their safety and maintenance responsibilities very seriously. But as owner-operators they are vulnerable to pricing pressure further up the supply chain, and this makes it difficult for them to earn a living wage.
The difference is in the relatively lower level of labour organisation among road transport works, and a retail duopoly to put constant downward pressure on the earnings of drivers at the tail end of the supply chain.
But by making this issue all about labour rates, the trucking industry associations missed an opportunity to highlight the many other ways that local owner-operators offer value to their clients.
Greens understand that owner-operator truck drivers offer their clients extensive local knowledge, personalised service, and a willingness literally to go the extra mile.
We think this deserves to be recognised by fair minimum pay rates.
Unfortunately this week the government and Barnaby Joyce took a different view.
In scrapping pay for queuing and loading/unloading times, the government also permitted unsustainable and inefficient practices to persist in the supply chain, ironically contributing to upwards pressure on grocery prices even as truckies miss out on fair pay.
We must maintain an incentive for consignors to make their supply chain as efficient and sustainable as possible.
We must make it a cost for the consignors to keep drivers waiting, or to be operating inefficient logistics, loading and unloading operations.
If we charge consignors for this time, we can ensure that the supply chain logistics and efficiencies will improve, with benefits for everyone, including the drivers, farmers, businesses and shoppers, along with improved sustainability outcomes.
Regarding safety, Greens understand and affirm that truck drivers take their safety and maintenance responsibilities very seriously.
We also acknowledge that it is only a small minority of cases where the truck drivers are actually at fault in the tragic accidents that occur.
But regardless of who is at fault, the basic physics involved present a hazard to the travelling public that must be addressed.
The relative vehicle masses involved in a heavy-vehicle accident mean that, regardless of who is at fault, those in the smaller vehicle face grievous risk of injury or death.
We have to be honest about these facts.
The trucking industry cites statistics such as an estimated 20 per cent decline in deaths from heavy vehicle accidents over the decade.
This is commendable, but then we’ve also seen a similar decline over the decade in deaths from smoking-related lung cancer – but that doesn’t mean smoking is suddenly safe now.
We still see that work-related death and injury among road transport workers remains stuck at 10-15 times the all-industries average.
Greens want all truck drivers and the travelling public to come home safely, and we won’t give up on truckies’ rights to a safe working environment.
The Greens offer solutions that include better public transport options for the travelling public and rail freight options for the industry, coupled with support for truck drivers to improve and maintain their earnings, health, safety and wellbeing.
Greens stand willing to engage in constructive and positive discussions with road transport industry representatives, of which there are many, to find ways together that will lead to a safer working environment for truck drivers, and safer journeys for the travelling public.
When it comes to road transport, they are the professional drivers, and so we appeal to them to talk to their members and work with the Greens on creative solutions to these problems.
We need to talk about diversifying the road fleet.
We need to talk about more sustainable models for logistics. We need to talk about the role of rail freight.
If you think it strange that the Greens would be in close discussion with road transport representatives, just recall that in the last week alone we saw the acting Prime Minister of Australia open a medicinal cannabis farm in Tamworth, not long after he had cut the ribbon on the largest wind farm in NSW near Glen Innes.
Politics can generate unexpected encounters.
Our door is open to hear from the industry and the travelling public, and we welcome that dialogue.