Hundreds of transport workers, their families and supporters have rallied in capital cities across the country demanding that more be done to protect transport workers. As part of their action on 15 July, they mobilised a convoy of trucks along high profile transport routes such as the Harbour Bridge in Sydney and Westgate Bridge in Melbourne. Their union, the Transport Workers Union, is calling on the government to investigate safety in trucking and to hold to account companies that are putting profits before safety.
The transport industry is the deadliest in Australia. One out of every three workers killed at work is a transport worker. These deaths are avoidable; they happen because transport workers are under pressure to work long hours, meet unsafe deadlines and ignore fatigue and safety rules.
A 2017 Macquarie University study found that more than 10 percent of truck drivers worked more than 80 hours per week, and almost all (82 percent) worked more than 50 hours per week. Many, including 20 percent of those working longer than 80 hours, reported that they felt unable to refuse unsafe schedules when asked by management, while one in six felt unable to refuse to carry an unsafe load and nearly half (42 percent) indicated they would not report safety breaches for fear of losing their jobs.
Popular supermarket chain Aldi is notorious among truck drivers for pressuring workers to break safety rules or face harassment and intimidation. Aldi has repeatedly refused to address safety concerns with its supply chain.
These sorts of practices have devastating consequences for not only transport workers but also their families and the broader community. Truck accidents accounted for 184 road deaths in the year to March 2018, with many of those killed car drivers caught in the crossfire of an unnecessarily dangerous industry.
Successive governments are not only guilty of inaction on transport safety but have actively reduced safety. In 2016 the Turnbull government abolished the road safety watchdog, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. The tribunal had, according to the government’s own assessment, helped to reduce truck accidents by 28 percent. Since the tribunal’s abolition in 2016, 388 people have been killed in truck crashes. Nothing has been established to replace it.
The many funerals of truck drivers and other road users that take place every year should not be happening. It is “corporate greed”, in the words of TWU acting national secretary Michael Kaine, that is fuelling this crisis: “Money-hungry corporations squeeze profits from freight contracts at the expense of public safety … while the federal government sits on its hands”. Transport workers will continue their campaign until better safety rules are introduced and companies are compelled to adhere to them.