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1/08/2015 2:36:29 PM

Owner Driver, by Tony Sheldon, August 2015

Large Corporate clients are keeping up the pressure on small operators, forcing them into unsafe practices through reduced rates and tighter timetables, Tony Sheldon writes.

Small fleet operator Steve Williams has a fleet of ten trucks in South Australia. I say he has a fleet of ten trucks, but he can only afford to run five of them on the road.

And when I say he’s got five trucks on the road, well, that was eight at Christmas.  
Steve’s been running a transport business since 1984. He’s no rookie. But Steve and his partner Anita are struggling to stay afloat.
 
Steve says his business is in decline because of the squeeze on his work. “In 2006 the work for one of my contracts gave me $62/hr for 10hrs work. Now, the same job has been brought down to $57.60/hr and only 8hrs to get it done,” says Steve.
 
The reality is Steve is not alone. He’s trying to do the right thing, but his friends, his family, in fact trucking operators in every state and territory are in the same boat.
 
“I try to run a sustainable, safe business,” says Steve, “but with contracts being pushed down all the time I can see how some operators cut corners on safety”.
 
When trucking companies are forced put safety in the back seat, it’s drivers who are forced out on to the roads in vehicles that put themselves and other road users at risk.
 
Receiving Abuse
 
South Australian Truck Driver Duane Bowering knows first hand what this feels like. “The pressure to get the job done is overwhelming,” says Duane. “I’ve been forced to carry loads that weren’t strapped down, abused if I took breaks and at times pushed to drive trucks with worn tyres and broken lights”.
 
After threes years Duane finally had enough and in July, he joined Steve, owner driver Frank Black, FBT Transwest boss Cameron Dunn and the TWU in giving evidence of lethal pressure in transport supply chains to a Senate Inquiry into road safety.
 
Together we showed how pressure from the top, whether it be in the form of delayed payments, unrealistic delivery times or contracts worth so little some operators run at a loss – just to name a few – are driving down conditions in trucking and driving up fatalities on our roads.
 
“This industry is under enormous pressure,” said Frank after the hearing. “We’re here because we know the only way to make transport safer is to make sure those who really set conditions – clients at the top of supply chains like Coles and others – are held to account.”
 
“It’s a disgrace that while drivers are forced to drive unsafe vehicles and small operators are being put out of business, the Abbott government is attacking the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal before it can do something to help.”
 
NSW Truck driver Glen Stutsel was also there to support a fairer road transport industry and the work of the RSRT.
 
Glen is a long-time TWU member and campaigner for Safe Rates. When working for a major transport company, he was shocked by some of the conditions smaller operators were forced to work under. “I knew something had to be done to fix our industry when I saw subbies paid a $100 set payment per trip regardless of delivery sizes, drop numbers, distance and hours of work,” said Glen.
 
“What the big trucking companies refuse to do is picked up by smaller operators and owner drivers,” said Glen, “the industry needs a clean-up – that’s why I back the TWU and the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal”.
 
Stories of Survival
 
In a market where one of the most powerful clients, Coles, admits to reducing transport costs by 5 per cent in one year alone, it’s no wonder operators and drivers are under pressure to survive.
 
The reality is no transport operator or driver wants to take risks on safety  - but when those at the top of the supply chain are squeezing them for every dollar and every minute, some are left with no choice.
 
At July’s senate inquiry, employee drivers, owner drivers and transport operators joined the TWU at the senate hearing because we all want the trucking industry to prosper.
 
If you’d like to join us – whether you’re a driver or operator, a subbie or a trucking family – tell us your story and help us secure a better future at: www.saferates.org.au/yourstory
 



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