The Guardian 23 February, 2005

Reining in trucking carnage

Fast food giant McDonald's is at the centre of a workplace deaths scandal that claimed 103 NSW lives, last year. Sixty truckies ceased deliveries to the burger baron last week after their employer refused to discuss measures aimed at stopping carnage on the state's roads.

Employees at FJ Walker's Blacktown and Newcastle truck yards walked out in frustration at the lack of talks on a new enterprise bargaining agreement in which they want the company to address the soaring death rate involving heavy vehicles.

Chain of responsibility clauses, which include transport companies and the companies that are the recipients of the goods, are key elements in claims FJ Walker has refused to discuss since last September. Others include fatigue management proposals, driving hours' limits and training programs.

The Transport Workers Union argues motorists and truck drivers will keep dying until the corporate sector assumes its share of responsibility for an industry plagued by fatigue and chronic overwork.

Union spokesperson Angela Humphries said the traditional enforcement approach of targeting truckies had proven ineffective. "It is not the best way to save lives", she said. "Regulations have to be aimed at the companies who set impossible driving times.

"Sydney to Melbourne is a 12-hour run, minimum, if you obey the road rules but we have drivers forced to do it in eight hours. You can do the maths yourself. The problem is that drivers face severe financial penalties if they don't meet those targets."

Humphries pointed to last year's successful prosecution of a contractor whose driver died in a fireball, out of Newcastle. The court heard he hadn't slept for four days, prior to the accident, and had complained to his employer about fatigue.

One hundred and three people died in heavy transport-related road accidents in NSW, last year.

The union says contractors, clients and others in the chain of command must take responsibility for a safe working environment.

It has filed a draft award that focuses heavily on health and safety, particularly documentation need to enforce chain of command responsibilities.

FJ Walker carts everything to McDonalds restaurants in NSW, from chips and buns to cardboard containers.'

"Our members walked out because of five months of frustration", Ms Humphries said. "And their biggest problem is the company's refusal to talk about the chain of responsibility."

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