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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2687

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (19:01): I welcome the opportunity to speak to this legislation and to join my colleagues in supporting it. This is important legislation, it is good legislation and it is overdue legislation. The legislation will establish a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, whose objects are to promote safety and fairness in the road transport industry. The tribunal will be empowered to inquire into sectors, issues and practices within the road transport industry and, where appropriate, determine mandatory minimum rates of pay and related conditions for employed and self-employed drivers. The tribunal will also be empowered to resolve disputes between drivers, their hirers or employers and participants in the road transport industry supply chain by mediation, conciliation or private arbitration.

The Road Safety Remuneration Bill is of course about much more than that. This bill is about fairness, ensuring truck transport drivers get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. It is about workplace safety and making the workplace for transport drivers safer. It is about corporate responsibility. Corporates have for too long abrogated their public responsibility by subcontracting out work, leaving the owner-drivers and the public to pick up the real costs. It is also about worker exploitation, using subcontracting as a means to exploit workers. The case for this legislation is best put in the opening paragraphs of the Transport Workers Union's 'Safe Rates' submission. I want to quote from those opening paragraphs, which state:

For too long, the Australian road transport industry has been Australia’s most dangerous industry. No other industry is responsible for 330 deaths in a year. No other industry injures 5,350 people per year at the rate of 31 per day.

Sadly, the crisis threatens to get worse. In the three years to March 2010, fatal crashes involving heavy rigid trucks increased by an average of 0.3% per year. In the year before the Wright/Quinlan Inquiry, the number of deaths in articulated heavy vehicle incidents increased by 5.4% when compared to the previous year ...

Each road death costs approximately $1.7 million. Each injury in an incident costs $408,000. When the non-monetised social cost of road deaths, injuries and illness, family breakdown, pain and suffering is included in the measurement of what road deaths and injuries cost the community, the damages bill is immeasurable ...

Of the 330 people killed each year in heavy vehicle crashes, around 16 per cent, or 52, are the drivers of the heavy vehicles. That is more than the fatalities in the construction industry and more than the fatalities in the manufacturing industry. For decades, different reports, inquiries and coronial findings have lead to the same conclusions: transport industry drivers are being pressured into taking unacceptable risks, including breaking the law, just so that they can make a living.

According to some estimates from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, average owner-driver income is approximately $29,000 a year, or less than half that which an employee driver would earn if working the same hours. Recent media reports in Adelaide have highlighted the extent to which drivers are taking drugs, breaking speed and weight limits and tampering with speed control devices on trucks. For owner-drivers, the cost of entering the industry can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, with a B-double truck typically costing between $300,000 and $400,000.

Employing another driver is not affordable. An owner gets to know their vehicle, and they take care of it because repairs can be very costly. The return on the financial outlay requires the vehicle to be on the road most of the time and for the owner to be driving it. Those objecting to this legislation will argue that, firstly, it is not needed because the establishment of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will resolve many of the current problems; secondly, consumers will end up paying more for goods; thirdly, voluntary schemes and codes are adequate; and, fourthly, higher remuneration will not lead to a reduction in fatalities and accidents. We have heard those arguments put not only by those in the industry who object to this legislation but by speaker after speaker from the coalition side objecting to this legislation. None of those objections withstands scrutiny; it is quite the opposite, as all the flawed arguments have been soundly rejected by research and analysis. I do not know how much more research and analysis the members opposite need to be given before they are convinced that those arguments simply do not stand up. We have been debating these issues for some 20 years. It is interesting to note that those who have objected most strongly to this legislation are the industry sectors that have the most to gain from the existing arrangements. But not all transport sectors oppose this legislation and I understand that the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation, the Australian Livestock Transporters Association, Australian Container Freight Services and private transport operator Linfox have all expressed support for measures in this bill.

The road transport industry employs 246,000 Australians and accounts for 1.7 per cent of Australia's GDP. It is a growing industry sector, with employment over the next five years expected to increase by almost another 13,000. But it is a sector which costs taxpayers $2.7 billion each year from truck related fatalities and injuries. We have heard members opposite talk about other factors which contribute to those fatalities and injuries. Quite rightly, they have referred to road conditions, rest-stop facilities, health and safety legislation, and even truck design, construction and maintenance, which all contribute to road fatalities and accidents. Whilst that may be true and whilst those factors also need to be simultaneously addressed, you cannot deny the fact that the current conditions which owner-drivers are subjected to are a significant cause of those fatalities and those injuries. Therefore, to say that we need to fix up all of the other matters before we look at this legislation is simply absurd. And the fact is that this government is looking at all of those other matters and has effectively doubled investment in infrastructure in this country. Much of that investment goes into road transport systems. We have introduced a heavy vehicle transport regulator and we are looking at having uniform laws across the country. Those matters are being addressed simultaneously, but you cannot ignore or put aside perhaps what is the most contributing cause to those injuries and fatalities: the very conditions which drivers are subjected to. In fact, the evidence that unreasonable demands and expectations placed on drivers by many of their clients—and I would refer to them not as clients but as employers—are a major cause of the associated fatalities and injuries is indisputable.

According to a Transport Workers Union of Australia survey, 48 per cent of drivers report almost one day a week in unpaid waiting time; 56 per cent of owner-drivers have had to forgo vehicle maintenance because of economic pressure, the need to keep working or the high cost of repairs; 27 per cent feel that they had to drive too fast; and 40 per cent feel pressured to drive longer than legally allowed. It is all right to say that they should not be doing any of those things and that it is their fault that they are, but they do those things because of the pressures they are under to meet delivery timetables and to ensure that they are on the road long enough to get a return for the time that they spend in their truck. Fatigue, substance abuse, speeding and poor vehicle maintenance standards all increase the risk of driver accidents. But let us not forget that those accidents are not only to themselves but to other road users. So this bill is about making roads safer as well. It is true that other factors may also contribute—like poor roads and driver error—but overwhelmingly the cause is linked to low-payment rates.

I want to refer to two other matters that are relevant to this legislation. Firstly, there is the impact on the personal health of drivers under the current scenario and the current arrangements o drivers being deprived of sleep, working long hours, taking stimulants and possibly other drugs, eating poorly and working under constant pressure and stress. The health impacts must come at a huge personal cost to the drivers and a huge cost to the nation.

The second matter I want to refer to is the effect on the families of those drivers. Families see drivers leaving home, not certain whether they are going to return, with the drivers being away for days on end and with the families being without the drivers for days on end. The drivers have very little social and family time because it all comes at a high financial cost. For them it is not a case of saying, 'I'll take a week or a fortnight off and go away on a holiday,' as every hour they take off costs them a considerable amount of money. Every hour that their truck is not on the road means that their ability to make monthly repayments to the finance company becomes even more difficult. So they simply cannot afford to have what most Australians take for granted, recreational time with their families. The price they have to pay is simply too high.

I want to finish with a personal account. I do so because other speakers have come into this place and said we need to talk to other sectors of the trucking industry and those who operate the trucks. A long-time family friend of mine, who has passed away, was an owner-driver for most of his working life. He drove interstate. He spent most of his time doing that. He would often talk to me about life as a truck driver and he confirmed to me everything that the Transport Workers Union is saying about the conditions to which drivers are subjected. He too had to work to very tough time lines. Sometimes he too had to wait 12 to 24 hours for the next load to be put on. Sometimes he too had to avoid doing repairs on his truck because he simply did not have the time for the truck to be off the road, let alone consider the cost that he would otherwise incur. He too saw his health suffer as a result of that. Everything that this legislation seeks to rectify he confirmed to me from his own real-life experiences as an owner-driver. Sadly for him, he did not live to retirement age because his poor health saw his life end early. For the sake of other owner-drivers, I strongly support this legislation and I commend it to the House.