Playing Political Games With Safety

Remain Vigilant

Here we go again, just as happened last year, we have interest groups playing political games with safety. What is going to be lost from sight during the ongoing row and smokescreen? Actual safety on the road, that’s what!

The cause of the debate this time is a well targeted and well planned manoeuvre by the Transport Workers Union. A Safety Summit, organised by the TWU, was held last week and the major presentation was a report from a research team at Macqaurie University. Unsurprisingly, seeing as the TWU were involved, the report found safety was being compromised by low rates since the abolition of the RSRT.

“A Macquarie University report has revealed the major reasons why truck driving is Australia’s deadliest job,” ran one news report. “Long hours, pressure to drive unsafe schedules with unsafe loads and an inability to raise safety concerns without jeopardising their jobs are among the risks to safety facing drivers.”

Meanwhile in the Sydney Morning Herald: “A truck cabin is among the deadliest workplaces in Australia, new research shows. The Macquarie University study, which surveyed 559 truck drivers, found a high proportion are forced to work long and dangerous hours carrying unsafe loads to avoid losing their jobs.”

The summit was held without any dissenting voices in attendance. When the news reports hit the wires the representatives of the trucking industry were incensed and hit back with a number of statements in an effort to mitigate the damage.

Yet again the TWU demonstrated its PR nouse and got the jump on the trucking industry. Not only did it get real traction out there in the media, but for the general public, if they took any notice at all, the impression would have been one of truck driving being an extremely dangerous job because of the evil employers and shippers paying low rates.

One major outlet, the ABC, did follow up the initial story with one about the disgust of the trucking industry associations with the way the TWU had set up the research, released it at a summit by stealth and then got a lot of media attention for the results.

In the rebuttal, SARTA’s Steve Shearer was able to talk about what the TWU had done and introduce some facts with a bit more credible backing. However, the coverage on the ABC, two days after the event, is unlikely to have much impact.

What we have happening in this instance is, yet again, the trucking industry being on the back foot and being outmanoeuvred in the media by the TWU, which is, by the way, a member of the ATA. The TWU have the right to pursue their policies for the benefit of their members and the union itself, and they do so effectively and professionally.

Meanwhile on the other side of the argument, the industry’s representatives also do their job professionally and, they can claim, more ethically. However, the situation has not been handled effectively.

From the point of view of Joe Public, the trucking industry is a bad place to work, the rates are bad and causing danger to the general community. Yet again, we have lost a PR battle. I don’t have a solution, but could we commission some research to see if we can find one?