Truckies promise national strike

July 26, 2008

Following a week of protest action, Mick Pattel, organiser of the lobby group National Road Transport Shutdown Forum, confirmed a planned national transport shutdown from July 28.

Truck drivers are planning to pull their rigs off the road indefinitely if the federal government does not take action to reduce the burden of spiralling fuel prices. Truckies are also demanding the repeal of new transport reforms that place further strain on their jobs.

Drivers, particularly owner-drivers, are being forced to absorb the spike in fuel prices. This hardship is being compounded by new federal laws that will impose penalties for driver fatigue and increase registration charges.

For the last month, NSW truckies have been taking on-road action and threatening to organise blockades. Sydney truck drivers staged a go-slow on July 23, with a convoy of more than 100 trucks moving at 60 kilometres per hour along the Hume Highway and the M5 motorway.

Transport Workers Union (TWU) spokesperson Joshua McIntosh told the media on July 23 that the aim of the convoy was to "let people know about the impact rising petrol prices is having on the transport industry".

The union is concerned that drivers have to not only absorb the price spikes, but also bear the cost of maintaining their vehicles. It says that, while the large retail chains such as Coles and Woolworths are increasing prices to offset rising fuel costs, those increases are not being passed on to drivers.

TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon told ABC News after the go-slow: "Unfortunately, the exercise that's occurred today is going to be repeated until we can get some sensible answers and a sensible commitment to actually have safer roads and safe rates, which means trucks can be properly maintained and decent living standards for truck drivers and other road users."

On July 1, a go-slow of a similar size travelled between 6-8am from Wyong, on the central NSW coast, to Wahroonga, in Sydney's north.

The protesters are calling on the federal government to initiate a national strategy that will compensate drivers for their increased expenses. The TWU, while not yet formally endorsing a stoppage, is appealing to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission for a compensation system. TWU assistant national secretary Michael Kaine told ABC News on July 25 that an application would be made to the commission for a fuel levy. The system would allow drivers to recover costs from transport clients, namely the retail chains.

Pattel said that the government's imposition of higher registration costs and increased penalties and fines has already led to licence suspensions, loss of income, the repossession of trucks and the loss of homes to mortgage holders.

The government appears indifferent to the impact reforms will have on the general public. Pattel told a public meeting in north Queensland on May 24 that a spokesperson from the federal department of transport had said he didn't know why the operators are worried as all they have to do is pass the cost on to the public.

Pattel said there is broad support for a strike, particularly from transport industry groups in regional areas, and that he is confident the TWU will back a stoppage as more members participate. He told ABC News that a strike has the power to bring the nation to a standstill. "At the moment we're looking at probably better than 70% [participation] ... the number of trucks shutting down and coming on board is increasing."

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