News : New Helpline for Stressed Truckies
Sept 25, 2014 -- A new and confidential helpline for truck drivers - who have a fatality rate 11 times higher than other workers - will only treat the symptoms and not the underlying causes of their higher rates of illnesses and drug and alcohol abuse.
Speed and fatigue were the major cause of truck accidents, said long-haul truck driver Frank Black, a 28-year industry veteran who represents 15,000 owner drivers on the Australian Trucking Association.
"No-one wants to risk their own or anyone else's life. But when drivers aren't paid enough to maintain their vehicles or earn a living wage, they can be forced to speed, skip breaks or carry overweight loads just to survive. It can really strain their health and their safety," he said.
The new 1300 Driver helpline will be operated by St Vincent's Hospital Sydney. It will provide anonymous and confidential advice, information and referrals to truck drivers across Australia. Not only are truckies 11 times more likely to die at work, they are twice as likely to smoke, about 80 per cent are overweight or obese, about 26 per cent abuse alcohol, 54 per cent have poor diets, and 30 per cent are at higher risk of heart attack, diabetes and gastro-intestinal illnesses.
Mr Black was appalled that the Federal Government has described the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal - which is meeting this week to consider a proposal to introduce a safe rate for truck drivers - as unnecessary bureaucracy. "Safety is not red tape," he said.
The pressures on drivers were huge, and could lead to physical and mental problems. "So 1300 Driver is a good initiative to treat the symptoms, but safe rates is about treating the cause," he said.
Introduced in 2012 after 20 years of lobbying by the Transport Workers' Union, the tribunal is expected to recommend within the next two months that owner drivers should be paid a safe rate for all time worked, including unloading, loading and waiting times. It is the only federal agency with power to issue binding directives that apply to anyone in the supply chain, yet it is likely that it could be abolished before then.
Economic employers of truck drivers, including the supermarket chain Coles, had to be held to account, said Tony Sheldon, the national secretary of the Transport Workers' Union. "If they aren't, they will continue to sweat drivers and sweat trucks. You miss maintenance, you don't change the tyres, you don't get the breaks," he said.
If the Government abolished the tribunal before it could make a binding recommendation, the TWU would take industrial action to pursue the introduction of a safe rate of pay, said Mr Sheldon. "We are determined to make sure the death rate comes down, and not see retailers exploit the political landscape while watching more of our work mates die."
Elizabeth Merrilees, assistant manager of St Vincent's Alcohol and Drug Information Service, said the new helpline would help truck drivers end and prevent unhealthy behaviour including substance abuse.
"With the stress, anxiety and long hours on the road, it's easy to develop unhealthy behaviours that negatively impact drivers, their families and communities."
Mr Black said substance abuse has been a problem in the industry for many years. "It is still rife in industry and the question has to be asked, 'Why are these people taking these drugs?' We've got to look at ways to stop them, provide counselling, and say to these guys, taking drugs is no good for you ... you gotta step away from it."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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