Tony Sheldon, National Secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union was on AM today defending Safe Rates!


Listen to the interview here or read the transcript below!


MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Federal Court will today hear an application from the Transport Workers Union to reinstate a minimum pay order for truck drivers.

The new minimum pay rates were set to come in this week but a business group successfully argued for an injunction, saying the move would force many owner drivers and small contractors out of business.

The tribunal was established in 2012 by the Gillard Government in order to make roads safer and regulate the industry.

Yesterday the employment minister Michaelia Cash told this program grown men were ringing her office in tears begging the Government to intervene.

The Government’s response has been to push forward with legislation to delay the introduction of the new minimum pay rates until January next year.

The Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon joins me on the line now from Melbourne.

Tony Sheldon, good morning.

TONY SHELDON: Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So truck drivers are clearly very worried about the impact this will have on their jobs. What’s wrong with the Government’s idea to push back the start date of the minimum rates?

TONY SHELDON: Well, you’re absolutely right. Truck drivers are extremely concerned about the fact that they’re not receiving safe rates.

This is about, this proposal, remuneration, from the independent tribunal, has said that there is about, there is 15 times the national average of truck drivers being killed than any other industry.

And these rates are set to keep people safe on our roads and truck drivers in business by making big, powerful clients accountable for the rates that exist within the industry.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, but clearly some of the truck drivers are worried about the impact the rates will have on their jobs.

I mean, you heard Michaelia Cash yesterday saying she’d had thousands of emails and phone calls from truck drivers who have big repayment obligations on their trucks and they’re worried that they’ll have their trucks repossessed and be forced out of business.

TONY SHELDON: With due respect to Michaelia Cash, this union actually represents 20,000 owner-drivers and we’ve been representing owner-drivers for over 100 years.

That doesn’t make us infallible as individuals, or the 20,000.

The reality is that Michaelia Cash has, and the Liberal Party and the National Party have been opposed to this tribunal from the day it was set up.

They voted against it. They’ve said that they want the free market to rip across this industry.

And as a result of that, we had just last month 25 people killed in truck incidents. We’ve got 15 times the national average of deaths. We have the highest suicides of any industry. And we have more, we are consistently in the highest number of insolvencies of any industry. That’s right now.

Now after a series of many, many studies over the last 20 years, including ones from conservative governments, that the studies have consistently found that rates of pay, conditions, and the pressure on trucking companies and truck drivers are literally sending them to the funeral parlours in this country.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, but clearly there are drivers who are worried that forcing companies to pay them more money will mean that they won’t get the work.

TONY SHELDON: Michael that’s, you know what, you’ve raised a really important issue, because what’s been happening and found in the tribunal – the independent tribunal said that there’s been a series of misinformation from one trucking association that represents many fleet owners across mainly rural and regional Australia…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So you’re saying it’s not true?

TONY SHELDON: …where most of those deaths – it is absolutely not true. In actual fact the reports consistently demonstrate that that is inconsistent.

And the fact is that the rumours and the innuendo and the political games that have been played by one employer association in particular, called NatRoad, has actually been turning around and giving misinformation, it was found in the court.

I mean, one of the people they had giving evidence through after two years of negotiations, after orders being given down in August last year which they never told any of their members about until December and didn’t give them any information, it was found in court. One of the companies, one of the companies they had representing them giving evidence supporting the position had only two years ago been raided in various states for trafficking drugs.

This industry is in crisis and the Government has to stop talking about free market and have a proper market that has proper productivity, people not being killed and having the highest death rates of any industry.

Sitting on their hands is outrageous.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Let’s go to the safety issue. Michaelia Cash said yesterday that merely paying someone more won’t mean they’ll introduce safe working practices. How will forcing drivers to charge more make the roads safer?

TONY SHELDON: Well I’ll just… Michaelia Cash also said yesterday, and it’s a very good point again you’ve raised, she said that the reports that her Government had commissioned – and you usually commission reports because you want an outcome that you want; governments consistently are known for doing that.

But this report that she didn’t quote said that there’s direct – in the PWC report in January 2016 – the report found that directly comparing remuneration and safety does demonstrate statistically significant correlations of unsafe practices.

Now why that’s the case, if you’re an owner-driver and you’re not getting paid enough then you work longer hours to try to keep your truck, keep your mortgage, and keep everything rolling. You sweat…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well if you haven’t got a job there’s not much of an argument though, is there?

TONY SHELDON: Well, this is the other unfortunate, Michael, this is the other furphy that unfortunately people have been told is that – what is the truth, and that is that owner-drivers in New South Wales for example, in many sectors of the transport industry, have been receiving substantially more payments than this order gives.

This order requires retailers to be held to account for the economic squeeze they put on trucking companies and the economic squeeze they put on owner-drivers.

What is also critically important and that is that there’s a very important statistic here. And it’s more than a statistic because it actually goes to the heart of why so many people have been slaughtered on our roads in trucking incidents.

Safe Work Australia in July last year said that 20 per cent of employers accepted dangerous behaviour compared with less than 2 per cent in other industries.

In the trucking industry 31 per cent of employers say working, workers ignore safety rules to get the job done.

That’s because of the pressure in the industry and it’s the economic industry that applies.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Government clearly wants to put a stay on this. They’re going to put legislation through Parliament.

Now Brendan O’Connor says the Government should sit down- Brendan O’Connor from the Opposition says the Government should sit down and negotiate with all parties, but is it going to be worth the Government’s time?

Are you, is the union going to be prepared to negotiate? And how much are you prepared to compromise?

TONY SHELDON: Well, how many months now has Michaelia Cash been in the shadow ministry? And literally from the day that she started in that role we’ve been trying to meet with her.

She’s met with the people opposed to safe rates. She has not met with the 20,000 owner-drivers that have been fighting for it for 20 years, and the many employees and trucking companies and associations that support there being a safe, fair rate where clients are accountable.

One big thing…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, are you prepared to move on from that position at all?

TONY SHELDON: In actual fact what Michaelia Cash has incorrectly said, and that is that we actually have put a compromise position up to the industry which about half the industry supported and a series of employers, and we’re prepared to have those discussions again.

But I’ve got to say this: There’s no (honest broker?) in Michaelia Cash. She said that she wants the tribunal abolished, she wants the free market to rip, and it means literally ripping the hearts out of people in this industry.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, Tony Sheldon, we’ll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.

TONY SHELDON: Thank you, Michael.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon.

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