Owner Driver, by Tony Sheldon, 1 Jan 2016
The battle for 'Safe Rates' continues to gain momentum around the world. Now South Korea is looking to adopt Australia's model, Tony Sheldon writes.
Truck drivers around Australia are hopeful that 2016 is the year when an important milestone will be reached.
After years of campaigning, drivers want to be able to receive the full cost of their work through an Order by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT).
This Order would cover owner-drivers in retail and long distance, but the Transport Workers' Union (TWU) is fighting for similar rulings in other sectors.
The fight here in Australia is vital for the trucking community given the pressure that drivers have to endure every day - whether it is being forced to drive for long hours, skip breaks, speed, overload their vehicles or cut corners on strapping loads and checking trucks. But the fight is also vital for everyone in Australia, since 330 people lose their lives in truck crashes each year.
Drivers and delegates at the TWU New South Wales branch, led by state secretary Michael Aird, recently showed their determination to end this carnage and address the pressures behind it when they were arrested during a protest to highlight safety.
Tim Dawson in the TWU Western Australia branch and Ray Wyatt in the South Australia/Northern Territory branch also led robust actions on the same day, while ongoing campaigns continue in our Queensland and Victoria/Tasmania branches.
What these fights show is that having a right and exercising it are two different things. Rights are only won by fighting for them.
This is why it is important we support the global fight for 'Safe Rates'.
Global supply chains, where Australian companies are bought by and merge with firms abroad, mean practices in other countries have an impact here. Toll and TNT are just two recent examples of this.
Trade deals that Australia signs with other countries also impact on our working environment.
These deals at the very least allow companies to enter our market with very different attitudes to workers' rights. At worst, trade deals, such as the one recently signed with, China can allow companies to import their own workforces, exploiting workers from abroad and driving down conditions for workers here.
In October an important step forward was made when employers, governments and trade unions at the United Nations body, the International Labor Organisation, recognised drivers' rights to safe and fair remuneration.
This move made it the responsibility of all signatories to tackle the supply chain issues that we in Australia have been fighting for decades.
But this fight is not an easy one, as truck drivers in South Korea know all too well.
Drivers with the South Korean food company Pulmuone have been on strike since early September, because of pay rates that have not risen for 20 years as well as appalling safety and working conditions. Drivers are employed as 'independent contractors' for the company and must pay a daily fee to maintain the contract - whether they work on a particular day or not.
One driver for Pulmuone, Changoh Park, recently said: "I came out this morning at 9am and drove until 1am. That's 640km in one day, loading and unloading five times.
"I'm not making a fuss and asking for a lot of money. I'm not refusing to work hard. I just want to be treated fairly for the work I've done."
By going on strike for a safe rate of pay, drivers and unions representing them have been arrested and imprisoned. The Korean Public Service and Transport Workers' Union is demanding that a system similar to Australia's Safe Rates laws be implemented in Korea, to hold companies like Pulmuone accountable at the top of the supply chain.
There are other countries where this fight is also catching on. In Europe there is alarm at the effect of supply chain pressure imposed by furniture giant Ikea.
Drivers from Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and nearby countries are forced to transport Ikea goods around Europe continually for months, with no accommodation and on wages that violate European principles and regulations.
The Ikea model bypasses distribution centres run by established transport companies and instead outsources the work to companies that often subcontract through various layers.
At the bottom is an underpaid and over-worked driver. Trade unions are gearing up to fight this with a campaign to ensure safe and fair pay throughout the continent.
In the United States, President Obama is pushing for minimum pay for drivers during loading and unloading time, while the Transportation Research Board will discuss safe rates of pay at its annual meeting in 2016.
The issue will also be on the agenda of the June meeting of the International Labour Conference, which sets policy for the International Labour Organisation. Safe and fair rates of pay on a global scale are now firmly on the ILO's agenda, with this focus on decent work in supply chains.
We in Australia must show our support for these global fights.
We must stand in solidarity with truck drivers around the world as they shoulder similar burdens and pressures every day as we do. But we must also rally their cause to ensure the standards we have struggled for are maintained.