'Federal tribunal penalises small truckies'


p2232-Louise-BilatoBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Not many trucking operators in the NT are affected by rulings of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal but those who are don’t like it, says Territory Road Transport Association EO Louise Bilato.
She says the tribunal is undermining the people it professes to be helping by setting minimum pay rates for people who are running their own business.
“They want to decide where their money goes, like all self employed people in any line of business. No tribunal tells graphic designers what to pay themselves,” she says.
The Federal Government will introduce legislation into Parliament next week to immediately abolish the independent tribunal which nominally came into effect on April 4. However, doubts have been expressed whether the Turnbull government has the numbers.
Ms Bilato says there are about 1000 road trains in the NT of which some 100 belong to owner operators. The majority belong to trucking companies which are not covered by the tribunal.
She says as no-one can tell owner operators how to spend their money, the connection between pay and safety is tenuous.
It would not reduce speeding and “taking drugs to stay awake at night,” nor would it improve maintenance, says Ms Bilato.
In any case, only about 5% of NT traffic accidents are related to poor maintenance.
An imposed wages regime would affect the owners’ ability to set their own freight rates and do deals for backloading.
For owner operators of road trains, which are expensive, the driver’s wages are only a small component of the operating costs.
It is much bigger for people delivering parcels in smaller trucks, for example, which are covered by the tribunal.
The tribunal has a “Big Brother mentality,” says Ms Bilato, and its controls are a duplication with existing legislation governing road and workplace safety.
A trucking company manager speaking on condition of not being named suggests that the Transport Workers Union is promoting the tribunal’s role because increased superannuation payments that would flow from higher wages would benefit superannuation funds in which the TWU has an interest.
Meanwhile TWU SA/NT Branch Secretary Ray Wyatt says the Prime Minister was spreading misinformation and fear among drivers in the Northern Territory and using the issue as a political football.
“A couple of weeks ago the truck drivers of the Northern Territory never heard from Malcolm Turnbull. Today he is ignoring the crisis they face in terms of the highest workplace deaths, chronic fatigue, stress, mental health problems, suicide and bankruptcies. He is also choosing to ignore the thousands of families left devastated by truck crashes who want to see change,” Mr Wyatt says.
He is saying he wants to abolish the tribunal “which is investigating appalling practices in the transport industry such as a race to the bottom in the armoured car industry where drivers are being put into cars to deliver cash and valuables without protection. This will put drivers and other Territorians at risk of serious injury and death during armed robberies”.
Mr Wyatt says the Government’s own reports released recently show that road transport has the “highest fatality rates of any industry in Australia” with 12 times the average for all industries. The reports also show the link between road safety and the pay rates of drivers and that the tribunal will reduce truck crashes by 28%.


  1. What rubbish!
    Of course there is a connection between driver pay and safety and taking drugs to stay awake at night.
    The aim is to ensure that owner drivers do not drive excessively and dangerously.
    That is achieved by making them pay themselves for their work according to the hours they work.
    Graphic designers are not told where to put their money because they are not in charge of machinery that can destroy lives in a flash as all too frequently happens on NT highways.
    Too many lives have been lost through truck drivers overworking as they have to in order to make a living.
    I’d rather pay a little more for goods that are trucked in and worry less about whether the road train bearing down on me will stop at the red light.

  2. To sum up the Fact Checker research: For every 10% increase in truckie compensation, carriers’ crash rates were 9.2% lower.

  3. I would have to agree with Bill. Well said, the people need to abide by national road rules but the problem people in the NT think they can do anything they like. The NT has the highest road fatalities in Australia. If this saves one life it’s well worth it.

  4. I can only deduce that neither Fred or Bill know anything about the transport industry, let alone owner driver operators, and I suspect business in general.
    At the start of the major push for a National Road Transport regime, I can remember going to trucking industry forums at Puccini’s and the Red Centre Resort in the late 90s, where we were told that the low NT crash rate was the envy of the other States.
    And the big difference – we didn’t have log books (a “one size fits all” philosophy, that originated in the US as a result of the impact the improving efficiencies the trucking industry was having on the declining profits of the big Railroad Corporations), imposed on us.
    We still don’t have a realistic national regime, but we do now have log books, and over zealous cops and inspectors who can, and do, fine you hundreds of dollars for misspelling the name of a town.
    Or not having your seat belt on when your sitting in the cab of your truck, trying to get your keys out of your pocket. Just a hint of many many more true stories.
    Owner operators are not all perfect, but they have a lot more to lose for low standards than the “big boys”.
    Owner Operators in fact stand to lose everything, while the latter manage to be shielded by all sorts of legislative devices that pass the buck down the chain, and a driver or mechanic or three might lose a job, for following orders.
    The TV media, in particular, have not helped the issue. This last week we were subjected to “background footage” of a couple of horrific truck accidents interstate. How many of them involved owner drivers? Certainly one of them was a national fleet operator that was playing Russian Roulette with his employees.
    I don’t recall seeing many owner operators responsible for fatals in the NT. Of course, most TV viewers or reporters wouldn’t know the difference – a truck is a truck, and therefore bad. Have you ever heard / seen a news report of a car colliding with a truck? It’s always a truck collided with a car.
    Owner operators are not in a position to increase the freight costs you may pay, Bill. They don’t have that option, unless your engaging them personally one to one (where you might manage to negotiate a price – try that with the nationals!) – just as you have little clout if you’re not happy with your bank fees, or tax bill. A different story for those at the other end of the food chain.
    While much of the solution in many grass root industries is to be able to make a fair day’s pay in eight hours fair work (something most people growing, producing or transporting the essentials of life can’t), legislating exactly which pocket they put what little income they do receive in, is not at all useful, and in fact counterproductive.
    Well qualified and sensible roadworthy / drug etc inspections for all road users is far more useful, providing it is on a level playing field basis.
    Remember, bad laws make [some / more] people behave badly.

  5. And Fred, this has nothing to do with “people in the NT think they can do anything they like” or “the NT has the highest road fatalities in Australia”. Use your cognitive skills, please.

  6. Bill, while there are any number of reasons why some truck drivers take pills “to stay awake”, poor pay would be near the bottom of the list.
    Threat of no work is however, right at the top, because for many owner drivers, their contracts are with the likes of a big supermarket chain, who demand unreasonable (i.e. unrealistic within legal driving hours etc.) interstate delivery schedules, and in today’s world of “just in time” stock reserves (i.e. diminishing backroom storage facilities / capacity), this just doesn’t only apply to transport of perishables.
    And this can happen for some company drivers too. In either case, the implied or articulated threat is along the lines of “if you can’t hack the pace, there are plenty more wanting your job / contract – take it or leave it”. That’s the short version.
    So removing the owner diver out of the picture, or dictating what pocket he puts his pay in, is irrelevant – the big retailers and manufacturers are often the source of the dilemma.

  7. One more thing Bill et al: If the reports are true that Bill Shorten has vowed that if elected, he will get all Owner Drivers off the road, you will get one of your “rathers” – you will certainly pay more than “a little more for goods,” but I guarantee you road safety won’t be improved as a consequence. See my April 17 posts.


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