ATA condemns truck strike violence threats

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 25th July 2008

Truck Fleet

The organisers of next week’s trucking industry shutdown, which could have a significant impact on food supplies, should abandon their plans if they cannot guarantee the safety of drivers who are not involved, according to Trevor Martyn, Chairman of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA).

The organisers of the shutdown have previously indicated that the two week strike could have wide-reaching implications, with the supply of food and fuel to be limited. The group, calling itself the National Road Transport Shutdown Forum, has claimed to have the support of up to 80 per cent of the nation’s truck drivers, although this figure is disputed by the ATA.

The concern from Australia’s peak national body for the trucking industry comes in the wake of an email circulated by one of the organisers of the shutdown, which reportedly warned that:

“Responsibility will not be held by (…) any of the shutdown organizers for the safety of any driver who continues to drive while the shutdown is on (…) representatives cannot be everywhere and we need your understanding that desperate people do desperate things (…) so to ensure your own safety please DON’T KEEP DRIVING.

Chatter on the UHF across the nation is that some drivers are going to be targeted if they are caught driving during the shutdown, this is an unfortunate part of any dispute; innocent people do get hurt.”

Mr Martyn suggested the organisers of the shutdown had a moral duty to make sure the shutdown does not lead to violence. “They organised the shutdown, and now it is their responsibility to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand,” he said yesterday. “They can’t hide behind glib disclaimers and phrases like ‘innocent people do get hurt’. They are responsible for the results of their decisions.”

“The ATA is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the vast majority of Australia’s truck drivers and trucking companies, who will be working as usual.”

Lynn Bennett, from the Long Distance Drivers Association (one of the strike organisers), told the ABC the statement had been misinterpreted. “We in no way endorse or encourage threats of violence,” she said upon issuing a clarification.

Mr Martyn reported that the ATA understood that many people in the industry were going through hard times and experiencing great frustration, but claimed that a shutdown was not the answer. “The ATA is funded by the industry, and our general council includes elected representatives of small fleet operators and owner drivers. In fact, they have exactly the same voice on our council as Toll, Linfox or K&S,” Mr Martyn said. “So we understand that many owner-drivers and small companies are struggling with the rising cost of fuel. It’s gone up by 50 cents per litre since last October, and many people are watching their life’s work collapse around them.”

Another major issue in the industry is the introduction of new fatigue laws, which has caused great concern. Mr Martyn said the ATA and its member organisations were lobbying governments to ensure truck drivers are not unfairly dealt with. “There is enormous frustration in the industry about these laws. They are slightly different from state to state; there aren’t enough trainers; operators in some states are rightly worried about how the laws will be enforced; there isn’t a single major highway in Australia with enough rest areas,” Mr Martyn suggested.

He added that some progress had been made but, while they believe more changes to the fatigue laws are necessary, the ATA believe a shutdown is not the answer. “… the best way we can deal with those concerns is to talk directly to the state and federal governments,” Mr Martyn advised. “We need to show them we are professional and that we care about safety. They won’t be persuaded by an industry shutdown that is now tainted with the threat of violence.”

A truck strike would have severe implications on the food industry, with reports from organisers that the supply of food to stores could be cut within three days if they garner the support from truck drivers that they hope.