21 Dec 2017
TONY SHELDON, TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF AUSTRALIA NATIONAL SECRETARY: First of all, this time of year we see so many needless lives killed in crashes in the trucking industry.
Last year, fifteen people were killed over the Christmas period – largely due to the pressure companies like Aldi and other retailers apply to truck drivers and trucking companies.
Fifteen people lost their lives needlessly last year, and companies like Aldi are still applying pressure to truck drivers, trucking companies and unfortunately so many people will lose their lives this year – mums and dads, children, grandparents – because of this pressure put on the trucking industry.
It’s a very important time to take care on the roads. Be very mindful of the pressures on truck drivers by companies like Aldi and other major retailers that force unrealistic deadlines and a substantial amount of pressure during this very busy period for the trucking industry.
I’ll hand you over to Brendan O’Connor. Thank you, Brendan.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much, Tony. It’s really important to be here today because as Tony has said this is a major issue and it is a policy failure of the Federal Government.
Let’s be very clear what has happened. In April last year the Federal Government abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, and in doing so they have ensured there would be increased incidence of fatalities involving articulated trucks.
We warned the Government that this would happen if they did not either maintain the Tribunal, or put something in its stead that could deal with safe rates in this industry.
Safe rates would see a reduction in long hours being worked, skipping breaks, and indeed speeding in some incidences, just to get the job done.
We said to the Government - if you don’t ensure there is some regulation around the relationship between work and safe rates, we will see more people die on our roads. Truck drivers are dying in increased numbers as a result - or in part as a result of this failure.
Indeed, this is not just truck drivers. Children have died in these accidents. So too have other public road users who have been involved in such crashes.
We say to the Federal Government - it is not good enough just to abolish the order of the Tribunal, to abolish the Tribunal that was there to make sure that we have safer roads and we have better conditions of employment for truck drivers. As Tony Sheldon has said, we have seen people under enormous pressure.
One of the reasons for that is the way the contract system works in the industry. We have very, very large economic decision makers in retail, for example. Aldi and others are pushing down prices and costs onto other retailers and transport operators, which is forcing truck drivers to work longer, to work less safely, and as I said in some instances to speed - just to get their job done - because they are concerned that they will lose their job if they do not fulfil their contract.
There may not be an employment relationship between those big retailers and the truck driver or truck drivers that are under this pressure - but those big retailers have an ethical responsibility to look after these people, because their decisions are having an adverse effect on those truck drivers, and indeed truck drivers across the country.
We want to see something put in place of the abolished Tribunal to regulate safer and better rates for these truck drivers.
We call on the Government, and we call on the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce who is the newly minted Transport Minister to stop the infighting, stop sacking competent colleagues, and start looking after truck drivers in this country. That’s your job as Minister for Transport. Stop fighting and getting rid of competent colleagues like Darren Chester, and have regard for road users in general, and truck drivers in particular.
I need to say also that we expected better from the Government in terms of dealing with this supply chain. If economic decision makers - even without an employment relationship - are causing our roads to be unsafe, then there needs to be more done to bring them to account.
I want to make it very clear - Federal Labor is entirely behind the campaign by the Transport Workers Union and union movement generally to make sure that truck drivers in this country ae safer, and that they get to go home for Christmas. That Christmas lunches and dinners are not happening with a vacant seat because someone has died - and may have died as a result of the failure of regulation, both in terms of safety, but also in terms of employment.
I’m happy to pass on to John now, who can tell this story from first-hand experience. Thank you John.
JOHN HANNELLY, TRUCK OWNER/ DRIVER: Thanks fellas. My name is John Hannelly, and I have been in the transport industry for 35 years.
It is a dangerous job, believe you me. I’ve seen it first-hand. Last year, reported at the Transport Workers Union Conference in Rooty Hill there was 50-odd deaths. One of my fellow drivers, he had been to 52 funerals. He said he was sick of funerals. But that is how dangerous it is.
Luckily, I work for a great transport company, they have great OH&S, and the trucks are serviced regularly. But, it’s only when there is a serious accident that the police will clamp down on the company.
You can see this for yourself on television. Some companies are not servicing their truck regularly, their brakes are shonky, there are many thing, many things I could tell you today, and I would like to thank you for your time, and say good luck to the TWU and my fellow workers. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: I’d like to hear a little more from John about exactly how dangerous it is out there, and what should change?
HANNELLY: Well, what happens is that a load of wine might come from Western Australia, and it’s scheduled to arrive in Sydney on Monday morning. That truck has maybe two days to get from WA to Sydney.
He might have a drop in Sydney, and another drop in Parramatta. Well, you just can’t. With the way that the traffic is here on a Monday morning, it’s just ridiculous. I have experienced it myself first-hand.
I have to tray loads and tray drops with wholesalers here, and it’s impossible to get to the wholesalers within half an hour.
You need to queue up, you might be waiting two hours, I have waited as long as seven hours in a queue to get unloaded. And that’s part of what the truck drivers are up against. It has not improved since I have been in the industry.
JOURNALIST: John, in your opinion, how dangerous is it going to be over this Christmas period compared to what we are hearing?
HANNELLY: Well it’s dangerous from many points of view. For the traffic in any city – especially in Sydney – the interstate truck drivers will unhitch their trailer out in Port Botany and bring a load into Sydney, then they need to take that empty trainer back and hitch up again, and do another drop at Silverwater, or wherever the case may be.
It’s difficult. The general public, they don’t comprehend the weight or the force of that truck. When it’s fully laden, its 70 or 80 tonnes, and when they go around bends, people can’t comprehend that they have to take two or three lanes to get around if you are turning left at the next set of traffic lights.
I’ve seen cars crushed. The general public do not understand the rules of the road. Do not overtake while turning – that’s the main thing – do not overtake on the inside. That’s how it is.
JOURNALIST: Tony, while I have got you mate, it seems ludicrous that we are still talking about dangers like this. Even for those who have only been driving for two or three years, it seems to be the same eventual problem year in, year out.
SHELDON: We have been raising these issues with Governments and with regulators. We have seen so many people lose their lives. An increase in fatalities of 9.4 percent.
That’s someone’s Mum, Dad, child that will not be sharing Christmas with their families this year, because the Federal Government got rid of the one Tribunal that held big, powerful, economic employers – those people who have the economic power to make differences in our supply chains and in our industry - to account.
They won’t hold them to account. They got rid of a Tribunal that would have actually dealt with this massive increase in fatalities this year. We see this year in and year out. And this Federal Government is refusing to act, except to stand with big retailers like Aldi, and see truck drivers being pressured, and families being slaughtered on our roads as a result of that pressure.
JOURNALIST: Is that 9.4 percent this year mate?
SHELDON: Its 9.4 percent this year.
JOURNALIST: Do you have a number of fatalities we have had again?
SHELDON: So we have had a 9.4 percent increase in trucking fatalities in the last twelve months, and the Federal Government refuses to act, except to abolish the one Tribunal that could have actually decreased those fatalities.
JOURNALIST: While I’ve got you Tony, how does the idea of a Senate seat sound to you?
SHELDON: Heh. Well, I have been approached by a number of people to see if I am interested in the Senate. There is one thing I am certainly interested in – and that is to make sure that truck drivers and families get home this Christmas, and these terrible fatalities and injuries and pressure that occurs in our industry comes to an end.
JOURNALIST: Will you be supporting Kristina Keneally taking that seat?
SHELDON: I think that it is particularly important that whoever takes the senate seat - whoever is supported through the party processes – that it’s the right person who fights for Australia.
Kristina Keneally is a strong candidate, and there are a number of candidates running for the Senate vote, and over the coming months we’ll find out who’s going to be representing New South Wales.
JOURNALIST: Would you feel hard done by if you didn’t get the seat?
SHELDON: I’m very committed to making sure that truck drivers and people on our roads turn around and fight for better and safer roads. The fatalities that we’ve seen in the last twelve months are horrific, and personally I’m in a job that I thoroughly enjoy, with a group of truck drivers prepared to turn around and fight for what is right.
JOURNALIST: Brendan, while I’ve got you here, what do you think of the stories today about working agreements with Bill Shorten and unions [inaudible]
O’CONNOR: It’s probably the best beat up story for Christmas.
Bill Shorten meets all constituent parts of the Australian Labor Party, and will continue to do so. It’s just another beat up from the Tele I suppose, bit of fodder for reading today.
I can assure you this - unlike the Government, the Shorten Opposition, the Labor Opposition, is united and focused on the things that Australians want and aspire to.
Unlike the Government - that now is in-fighting, and that in-fighting has been transferred across to the Nationals - we are very united. I can assure you that our focus now and going into the New Year will be developing policies so that we can look after education, health, wages, wage growth, job security.
They are the issues that Australian people want us to be focusing on, and I can assure you we are focusing on those issues.
As for the internal workings of the Australian Labor Party, as you know we have our discussions and sometimes our arguments, and they’re resolved as they should be – democratically. They will be across the spectrum, because to a person in the labour movement we need to get rid of this awful Government.
This is a Government that has no empathy for working people, a Government that spends most of its time legislating to attack unions and working people, and that is one of the reasons why we’ve seen such a fall in wage growth. It’s the lowest wage growth in a generation, and of course at the same time they’re continuing to support the cuts to penalty rates, which will continue to next year and the year after that.
JOURNALIST: You might call it a beat up, but it would be hard to deny that this is about Bill Shorten shoring up his leadership?
O’CONNOR: Well, as I said to you, Bill Shorten is supported by the caucus entirely. Bill Shorten is supported by the labour movement, and he’s supported by the party membership.
We came within a whisker of winning the last election, when nobody thought we could, and now we’ve got the Government on the ropes.
What we want the Government to do is stop in-fighting, and focus on the needs and aspirations of Australian people. So, I can assure you, I as a Federal Shadow Cabinet member, and member of the Caucus, I am very confident in Bill’s leadership, and we’re very united. That’s the big difference in the two major parties.
For many years now, we have been united and coherent and focused on policy and what is needed for this country. The Government has been divided, with a Prime Minister who is spending every week trying to survive. Well, he survived until Christmas; let’s see what happens in the New Year.
JOURNALIST: And finally, will Kristina Keneally bring undue drama and baggage with her to Parliament? Would you have better luck with someone like the man standing beside you?
O’CONNOR: Well, Tony Sheldon would be a great representative for working people in the Parliament. Kristina Keneally, as I already said, was a great candidate for Bennelong, and would be a good candidate. We’re spoilt for choice.
In the end, we are a democratic party, and this will be decided through a contest if there needs to be a contest. What I do know is whoever we select to be the Senator from New South Wales in the New Year, it’ll be a strong advocate for working people. The person will be a strong and tireless advocate for workers in this country.
JOURNALIST: Thank you for your time gentlemen.
O’CONNOR: Thank you.