No Ticket, No Start---No More!

Australia's Transport Industries and the Unions

Paul Gaynor

It is with a sense of pride that I address you today on behalf of the National Transport Federation Ltd. (NTF), representing an industry that is so vital to Australia's economic and social well-being.

Within the overall theme of this Conference 'No Ticket, No Start---No More'---I believe I can give you an overview of an industry---the road transport business---that should be the subject of investigation and scrutiny.


Yass Blockade

If you want to find an industry to prey upon, road transport is it. For those who wish to exploit and hold an industry to ransom, road transport is 'easy meat'.

To illustrate this, let me outline the events at the Yass blockade in July 1988. On Monday July 11, 1988, about a dozen drivers parked their trucks across the road at Yass and decided that they would save themselves and our industry.

By next morning, they were convinced that about 500 other drivers---whose trucks were stopped from passing through---also felt they were right. On the Monday night, I was instructed by my Board to go to Yass to resolve the issue. I had spoken to the people organising the blockade at different times before and we felt that they might listen to reason, remove the blockade and join us in a professional approach to correct various industry problems involving the Federal Government.

On arrival at the blockade, I saw chaos: no control, no central committee, no nothing. By Tuesday night, we had modified the blockaders' demands and had a positive response from the Government to the majority of undertakings required. By Wednesday, the blockade committee had chosen me to represent them.

(I agreed on the condition that all roads were cleared.) By Wednesday night, a meeting between the blockaders had been arranged with Senator Evans with the help of the Transport Department, on the basis that no trucks would be stopped from leaving the blockade: that was respected and about 80 per cent of blockaders subsequently disappeared.

At this stage an interesting development occurred. A Mr Black appeared mysteriously, voted himself onto the Committee (which was curiously accepted unopposed by the committee.) TWU members were encouraged to burn their TWU cards and join the 'Teamsters Union'. Black connived to have me removed from the delegation and remained at the blockade while the Committee went to Canberra on Wednesday night to have beer and pizzas with Senator Evans. When committee members returned triumphantly late on Wednesday night, Black called for rousing applause for their efforts and then promptly had them removed from the committee, yelling that the blockade had the support of the BLF, Painters and Dockers and other assorted groups. The blockade was resumed with new-found vengeance and enthusiasm, led by a new, vigorous group of 'truckies.'

On the Thursday morning, I held a press conference at the blockade. I informed the media of our fears that the blockade was now more than ever detrimental to our industry and to the economy and should be removed. After my statement, the press universally leapt into an encore of 'Is it true Mr Gaynor that you have come here to further the New Right cause?' 'Is it true that you are using the blockades to help your career and the political views of the NTF?' And more of the same. Curiously, nothing was asked about the blockade developments.

On the Friday, NTF members travelled from around Australia to try to bring some sense into the situation. They and I were met by BLF flags and T-shirts, pamphlets by BLF-clad cronies and a hostile crowd.

To their immense credit, our members were able to isolate the trouble-makers and talk sense into the vast majority of those wanting to go home and get on with the job. By the Friday night, the blockade was over.

When I returned to Melbourne, I saw for the first time several pieces in the Australian Financial Review welcoming me to the New Right. I also appeared on the TV'AM' program, to talk about the misuse of statistics and economic matters relating to issues central to the blockaders' demands. In the event, however, the conversation was isolated to my role in the 'New Right' and in the blockade.

In short, at the Yass blockade and subsequently, someone had deliberately misled the media about our intentions at Yass. We were, however, able to disrupt the plans of the BLF to infiltrate the transport industry by starting a union in opposition to the TWU. We managed to focus on this aspect of the blockade in Business Review Weekly, (29 July 1988).


The KAOS Environment

Overall, our industry has traditionally been exploited, held to ransom, used and abused at the cost of the vast majority of people whose livelihood is dependent on carrying freight. I emphasise the words 'carry freight' rather than 'organise freight' deliberately. In our industry, those who 'carry freight' have little if any say in their own industry, as I will detail later.

In short, those that 'organise freight'---the freight forwarders---have exploited our industry so successfully and the unions have held our industry to ransom so effectively that other 'blockaders' have attempted to imitate them.

I use the word 'KAOS' to describe our traditional environment. I adopt the spelling K-A-0-S deliberately, from 'Get Smart'. In 'Get Smart', as all TV lovers would be aware, the image of confusion and 'chaos' was extended to the formation of KAOS specifically to maintain it! The road transport industry is not much different from this.

KAOS in our industry has manifested itself through an insidious relationship between the major freight forwarders and the unions. History will show that this relationship has resulted in our industry being badly regulated and overtaxed, with an insulting industrial relations environment and a deplorable safety record.

Let me give you an example of a situation by no means unique in our industry.

A Victorian transport company was black-banned by the union for not being in their Superannuation Scheme and for not having all drivers in the union. The forwarders' group represented the company in the State Commission. In private discussions the union threatened to force the closure of the company unless both demands were met. The forwarders' representative, with immense surprise, chastised the company for not abiding by the union demands. The representative sent the company the forms for the union superannuation scheme and for union membership.

The question that must be and has been asked, is how this could occur in an industry that annually carries 1.32 billion tonnes or 80 per cent of all freight in Australia, with an anticipated 60 per cent increase in freight movement before the year 2000. Why have 30,000 transport businesses throughout Australia allowed themselves to be bludgeoned (most often illegally) into capitulating to union demands without representation or recourse? Why, in 1989, are these operators so uninformed about their rights when facing 'blackbans'?

The answer---KAOS

The two partners in KAOS are interesting. One is the TWU, a 'right wing' union. One-third of its members are reported to be owner/drivers, most of whom are illegal members. In fact in Victoria a fortnight ago, the Victorian Secretary of the TWU---Jim Davis---expelled a number of owner/driver TWU members who set up a ticket in the current TWU elections against him. The reason for the expulsion, as stated in a statutory declaration by Mr Davis to the electoral commission, was that the owner-drivers 'are independent contractors according to Justice Northrop ... in 1981 and to my knowledge ... have never become eligible for membership of the Victorian Branch of the TWU'. Interesting!

The other partner in KAOS represents the major freight forwarders and is concerned with industrial peace rather than with the industrial repercussions of such peace. Why? Because the major freight forwarders do not employ the vast majority of drivers who move their freight. The employment task is left to the subcontract companies that paint in the forwarders' colours and employ drivers. These subcontractors are 'encouraged' to join the forwarders in dealings with the unions. Yet the subcontractors have little, if any, say in industrial matters. Furthermore, the vast majority of the industry operators outside this group are not aware of the deals struck, but are told by the union after the deal is done.

The union and major freight forwarders have a happy relationship based on 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours'. Unfortunately, the 'fall-out' from such back-scratching 'contaminates' the rest of the industry.

KAOS, absolute KAOS!

Let me cite three case studies that have occurred in me last two years.


CASE 1

A subcontractor of a major freight forwarder, employing over 50 drivers, was told by the forwarder and the union that he must join their group and become a respondent to the Interstate Drivers Award if he wanted to do interstate work. He was informed by the freight forwarder and the union that he must pay for all employees to be in the union as well. He did this out of fear and the belief that if the group told him this, it must be OK


CASE 2

Melbourne company subcontractor for a major freight forwarder was told that his trucks were being stopped by the unions at the Sydney depot of the forwarder, because the driver did not have a union membership badge or superannuation ticket. The freight forwarder turned a blind eye, claiming that the problem was not his. The company was a member of the forwarders' group, but it would not intervene. The company capitulated.


CASE 3

In August 1988, the NSW Transport Minister made a directive to his Department to place the NTF on his Advisory Council. Members of KAOS, who traditionally advised the Minister, threatened to resign 'en masse' and lobby against the NSW Government if this occurred. It took a submission from us to the Premier to have the Ministerial directive upheld.

KAOS, absolute KAOS!


Establishment of NTF

In November 1986, thanks to the initiative of our current Honorary Chairman, Melbourne solicitor Haset Sali, the NTF was formed by twenty transport operators in the Goulburn Valley, Northern Victoria. The reasons were simple---no-one in the industry was representing those transport operators who actually transported freight and they were sick and tired of being abused. They had been threatened by unions with adherence to the Interstate Drivers Award, which had a wage rate $13,000 per employee in excess of what 95 per cent of the industry paid. They were continually being stopped at depots and freight yards by unions for any number of reasons. They paid 40 per cent more in taxes than the average of Australian industries and were caught in an environment that had little regard for road safety.

In two years NTF has grown to now represent over 1,000 transport operators throughout Australia, ranging from owner/drivers to large fleet owners, and involving over 10,000 vehicles collectively.

Our goals are fundamental and specific. We aim to protect our members' legal rights; to provide a safe and efficient industry environment; to ensure that we are taxed with equity and with sense; to reveal the truth about KAOS.

Industrially, in two years we have:

  • removed over 100 union 'blackbans' placed on our members;
  • removed a national blockade at Yass (and throughout Australia) in 1988;
  • l challenged the exclusivity of the TWU superannuation scheme in our Awards (we have been opposed by KAOS in this matter);
  • pursued a total review of the Interstate Drivers Award which has an artificially excessive wage formula that is rejected by 95 per cent of the industry. (We have been opposed by KAOS here too, KAOS having made this Award by consent In 1980.)

We have also called for and been promised an inquiry in 1989 into the level of tax paid by our industry.


Blackbans

In 1987, NTF had to deal with an average of two union industrial blackbans a week, one of which was always on a Friday afternoon (consistent with the 'hold to ransom' approach). This continued until late 1987, when the unions reduced their traditional form of 'persuasion' considerably.

Over 100 union blackbans were removed in 1987 and 1988, most within 24 hours and the rest within two days of their establishment.

The basis of our actions has been to maintain the legal rights of our members, whilst being careful to leave each door open for tactical manoeuvres.

It must be remembered that, for generations, the road transport industry has lived in mortal fear of union reprisals through blackbans. Our members have repayments on $200,000 trucks to worry about. Their customers have delayed freight to worry about.

For operators to hear of a way to uphold their legal rights without disruptions to work sounded to them like utopia and beyond. Scepticism was rife in our early days. The first removals therefore involved a great deal of work and support for the operators who, understandably, were petrified that they could lose their livelihood by taking action so foreign to their normal procedure for dealing with a 'blackban'---to capitulate.

The first thing that struck me forcibly was that although a transport business may sometimes have been incorrect in its industrial dealings, there was never an attempt by the union movement to explain the situation professionally. Rather, the union had an in-built desire to 'blackban'. Furthermore, it may seem remarkable that an industry as large as ours could be so easily pushed around; but it must be remembered that the vast majority of carriers especially long-distance ones are country-based and isolated from the day-to-day changes in city-based relationships.

Even so, I still find it remarkable to think that I was dealing with people who had such limited awareness of their basic legal rights that the idea of calling on the law as Australian citizens was totally foreign to them.

Perhaps the words of a TWU State Secretary best summed up the position when he excitedly said to one of our members: 'When you entered this industry you entered a whole new world. You're the industry, we're the world and law'. Unfortunately, the transporters in the industry traditionally had no choice but to believe such words until they had the courage to stand up for their legal rights. Let me give you several examples of the environment we face and the way we deal with it.


CASE 1

At a major shipping cargo terminal at the Melbourne Ports, a union delegate decided to stop any truck from being loaded or unloaded unless the driver produced a union ticket and superannuation ticket. NTF members were affected by the decision, and trucks were banked up at the entrance awaiting some word.

In these circumstances we went to the site and called for the union representative concerned. The representative is usually an employee of the site company. We informed the delegate that we had witnessed his actions in stopping the trucks and we advised him to seek legal advice because we would be taking him personally to court. The representative usually responded that he was a member of the union and that it would look after him. We informed him that we were not taking legal action against the union (yet) but him personally. We gave him our business card and advised hi to contact the union movement to see if it would pay for his legal costs. The ban was usually lifted soon after.


CASE 2

Three trucks of an NTF Director were stopped by a union at a Melbourne Ports depot because the drivers were not members of the union movement. The union approached the customer concerned and the storage depot owner, telling him that the ban was in place and that they were not to load the transporter. They agreed, not knowing otherwise.

We sent a facsimile to the union informing it that we were aware of the illegal activities and warning of the legal actions to follow if all bans were not removed.

The union again warned the customer and storage owner not to load the trucks. The customer informed the union that he was not involved in the dispute and that the union should take it up directly with the transport company. The storage owner told the union that unless its members removed themselves altogether, he would take legal action against them himself

The bans were removed, but the union threatened the company with further bans if all drivers were not made union members, paid by the company.

We arranged for all drivers of the company to confirm in writing whether or not they wished to be in the union movement. We sent the results to the union, indicating that the company would make time available and the time of drivers wishing to discuss membership, at a mutually convenient hour.

The union rang for an appointment, which was arranged and kept. Two of the thirty drivers joined the union movement.


Observations and Conclusions

The one factor that has stood out in all of these cases is that the legal system has provided protection to people---citizens of Australia---against thuggery and coercion.

In our view there is no difference between thuggery and coercion by a citizen or thuggery and coercion by a union. We would see any attempt to change the law to exclude unions from such recourse as a major denial of the basic rights of citizens. Instead we must keep disgraceful acts such as blackbans off the street and address them in the proper forum of the Commission or Courts. Without doubt, the major aspect of our actions industrially in the last two years has been to apply the law vigorously against the union movement in our industry until unions learned to respect the legal rights of our members. In our industry today, blackbanning is no longer treated as a normal occurrence. It is now viewed with justifiable rage by transport companies wishing to uphold their legal rights.

NTF has shown quite clearly that an equitable industrial climate can exist without street thuggery and coercion. Today arguments are resolved in the correct forum--- the Commission or the Courts. We have shown that KAOS is a short-term phenomenon which will not last.

Industrially, things will continue to improve. The industry is now better educated about its legal rights and obligations. We have used our own monthly newsletters, bulletins and the transport media to 'spread the word'. It is working.

In other words our industry is starting to 'Get Smart'.

For years our industry has had a feeling of guilt and a 'second-class' attitude. This is changing.

The aim of NTF in raising the profile and stressing the importance of our industry, as well as pursuing our members' legal rights, is simply instil pride and enthusiasm into our members. This will in turn be felt by our industry's customers and by the Australian economy as a whole, through a more professional attitude and service by our members.

The NTF can't do it alone. We need support from like-minded people who want to see our country move ahead. Support is coming. Two people here today have joined our team: Paul Houlihan is now NTF's Industrial Relations Executive; Fred Stauder is Chairman of our Fund Raising Committee.

Through this support we will be able to enact new industrial arrangements between employers and employees with the best industrial advice. For example, in 1989 we will be pursuing a 'certified agreement' under the new Industrial Relations Act to replace the current Interstate Drivers Award with an equitable, uniform and enforceable wage structure.

I believe that the farmers have shown our country quite clearly that there are tangible benefits flowing from such an approach.

Before concluding, let me just make two personal observations.

I'm sure everyone here has had experiences that will stay with them for a lifetime. I've had an early 'baptism of fire' through the Dollar Sweets case and, last year, the Yass blockade. Both these experiences taught me that unless you are energetic in presenting your case, others will upstage you for their own ends. Media reports flowing from our purported involvement at Yass are clear indicators of this---we obviously did not do our PR job properly.

Those who believe in the benefits to our community of decentralised industrial relations and the removal of thuggery and coercion (blackbans) must take the lead in these matters. I am greatly dismayed by the very negative press we are getting and the lack of media input from like-minded respected business people who hold sincere and legitimate views in this area at variance with the ACTU and others.

The media will report in a balanced, objective manner if properly advised of our views. Finally, I believe that the current Federal Government owes it to the Australian economy and electorate to distance itself from a single lobby group---the ACTU---if decisions are to be made in the national interest free of political electoral blackmail. It is sad to see wage decisions being made today with little if any regard for those who own businesses and must meet the cost of centralised wage decisions, irrespective of ability to pay and of the performance of particular industries and the economy as a whole.

The only way a centralised wage system can be made more realistic is if entitlements to wage increases are justified by reference to increased productivity measured against the performance of our major trading partners.

Why HR Nicholls?

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