Australian truck drivers’ union renews calls for industry watchdog

Catie McLeodNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Truck drivers have gathered in Hobart to demand safety reforms to “Australia’s deadliest industry” on the eve of the Federal Election.

A small crowd of drivers marched behind a Transport Workers’ Union banner through the Tasmanian capital on Thursday morning before they were due to convene for the union’s annual national council meeting.

The TWU members gathered outside Liberal senator Jonathon Duniam’s office and left a letter with his staff, outlining their grievances with his and his party’s “opposition” to truck safety reform.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus and TWU national secretary Michael Kaine both addressed the small crowd, some of whom waved orange and black union flags, or held placards opposing Scott Morrison.

“What we need is regulation from the federal government to lift the pressures in this industry, so that truckers don’t have to work too long or too fast to make a living for themselves and their families,” Mr Kaine declared.

“So that they return home safely at the end of the day (and) are not caught up in the carnage.”

Camera IconTWU national secretary Michael Kaine has called on the next government to set up a trucking industry watchdog. NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw Credit: News Corp Australia

The TWU is understood to have singled out Hobart-based Senator Duniam because he was one of three senators who in 2019 spoke in parliament to oppose an inquiry into safety in the road transport industry.

The inquiry was established despite Coalition opposition at the time. The Senate committee which ran it handed down its final report in August last year after hearing from about 150 witnesses over two years.

The TWU has taken umbrage with the Morrison government’s response to the report’s 10 recommendations, particularly that it rejected a recommendation to “establish or empower” a trucking industry watchdog.

The union has been leaning on the inquiry to demand the effective resurrection of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which set pay and conditions for drivers in the industry from 2012 until it was abolished in 2016.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison Election 2022
Camera IconThen-Employment Minister Michaelia Cash was a vocal opponent of the road safety remuneration tribunal before its abolishment in 2016. Jason Edwards Credit: News Corp Australia

The fallen tribunal has been a flashpoint between the TWU and the Coalition since it was disbanded under the watch of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and then-Employment Minister Michaelia Cash.

The Turnbull government made the decision after the tribunal issued a controversial order establishing a national minimum pay rate for truck drivers, which sparked anger among some owner-drivers, who feared it would make them uncompetitive.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Barnaby Joyce said two independent reviews had found no link between remuneration and safety and instead negative impacts on small operators.

“The government then redirected the resources of the tribunal into practical safety programs under the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator,” he said.

“The fact that the number of deaths from crashes involving heavy trucks has reduced since the tribunal was abolished shows the Coalition’s approach is working.”

The TWU has reignited its fight with the Morrison government over the matter and thrown its support behind an Anthony Albanese Labor government, nine days out from the Federal Election.

Mr Kaine wrote in his letter to Senator Duniam that an industry regulator was needed to enforce “binding standards that would address unsafe contracting pressures through cost-cutting in transport supply chains”.

Senator Duniam said he welcomed the union’s interest in the matter and that he would consider Mr Kaine’s correspondence.

“At the time of the protesters being at my office, I was out at a pre poll booth, talking to the people of Tasmania about what is important to them,” he said.

“If the TWU was serious about meeting with me to discuss this issue, they would have contacted me earlier and arranged an appointment, rather than a political stunt.”

The union says 45 truck drivers and 73 other road-users have been killed in truck crashes since the Senate report was tabled about nine months ago.

Originally published as Australian truck drivers’ union renews calls for industry watchdog

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