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Tunnel chaos as B-double driver on 457 visa can’t reverse truck

February 12, 2016

Listening to Ray Hadley’s 2GB radio show on Friday 5 February was interesting, to say the least.

Hadley reported that a B-Double, decked out in Scotts of Mount Gambier livery, narrowly averted crashing into Sydney’s M5 airport tunnel because the vehicle was too high.

Thankfully, the driver stopped just in time. But it appears that’s the only thing he got right.

As the traffic banked-up behind the truck, the RMS arrived on the scene and instructed the driver to reverse to the nearest off ramp. The truck driver (and co-driver) then made a complete mess of the job. On alighting with the truck skewed across numerous lanes, they explained that they didn’t really know how to back up the truck, nor did they know how to unhook the trailers.

While the fiasco unfolded, Channel 7 reporter Chris Reason interviewed the driver at the scene who confirmed he was on a work visa. When questioned by the reporter if being able to reverse the vehicle and knowing how to unhook the trailers should be pre-requisite for driving this type of vehicle on our roads, his response was ‘no’.

We’re fairly certain he’s the only one who feels this way.
It was discovered later that the driver was not employed or contracted by Scotts, but was hired by the tow contractor Scotts had used (more of that later).

The RMS sent for a driver to remove the vehicle.

Compliance under the spotlight

When contacted by CoR Bulletin, National Heavy Vehicle Registrar’s Head of CoR, Michael Crellin said: “Under Chain of Responsibility laws, operators, employers and prime contractors (amongst others) must ensure that all drivers, all vehicles, and all loads are compliant with the law.”

“This means ensuring that every transport activity can be undertaken safely; using competent, appropriately trained and qualified staff, and management systems that support compliance with the law.

“The laws are designed to maintain safety for all road users. When any aspect of the transport activity is compromised, human lives could be placed at risk,” Crellin said.

Meanwhile, callers to Hadley’s program complained that many heavy vehicles were being driven by drivers on 457 visas who had little experience on Australia’s roads (and some less flattering remarks, too).

The Transport Workers Union National Secretary Tony Sheldon was among callers who went to air on Hadley’s show. He was scathing of the drivers’ inability to remedy the chaotic situation.

Later, Sheldon said industry-wide training should be carried out under the auspices of a national auditing, education and industrial rights program.

“This fund would be important in holding companies to account over safety and standards. At the moment it is the rest of the community which is bearing the brunt of the loss of loved ones and the economic cost of truck crashes and chronic delays as we have seen today,” Sheldon said.

He believes the fund should be paid into by all employers along the supply chain in sectors with high rates of fatalities.

“It would ensure companies are meeting safety obligations and that those at the top of supply chains are being held to account for work carried out for them. The fund would also educate employers on their obligations while training drivers on safety and their rights at work.

The TWU is also concerned at claims that the driver of the truck today was on a 457 visa. Truck driving is not included in the list of categories for 457 skilled visa holders and Federal Immigration Minister must urgently establish if visas are being obtained for truck drivers.

“I call on the Federal Government to investigate claims that the truck was being driven by a 457 visa holder. This is a very serious issue with huge implication for public safety, given the dangerous nature of trucking,” said Sheldon.

Don’t blame us, says Scotts

The media on the day was quick to blame Scotts. But Scotts responded to the accusations by issuing an internal memo to its staff saying that the tow operator it had engaged had hired the drivers.

“Drivers engaged by a tow operator which had been directed by Scotts to transport goods from Brisbane to Sydney approached the airport tunnel.  The height of the tunnel was too low for the vehicle.  The truck stopped short of the tunnel and caused traffic chaos,” the memo said.

Adding to the mess, Scotts says the errant truck was not being driven along the designated route and was in breach of its obligations to Scotts.

“Scotts is unable to monitor the driving or track the whereabouts of trucks that are not its own trucks.  Scotts directed that the tow operators engage a driver to drive in accordance with a Safe Journey Plan that did not include that route.

“Scotts denies that it was responsible for the incident or that its practices allowed the incident to occur.  It also denies that it encourages or condones the engagement of unskilled overseas workers on 457 visas by its tow operators.”

Scotts say it has its compliance program ensures tow operators comply with their obligations.

Checks in place

Just where do you stand if the transport company you contract uses drivers who, though licensed, can’t get themselves out of trouble and cause delays and ill will (as in Scotts case)? Do you know who’s behind the wheel of the trucks you are using in your supply chain?

Should you have to know?

Are you in favour of a scheme like the one proposed by the TWU?
Are the authorities doing enough to ensure the roads are safe for all users?

What changes might come about after this incident?

The CoR Bulletin, written and compiled by Editor-in-Chief Geoff Farnsworth, a transport expert from Holding Redlich Partners, will ensure you get the answers you need to meet your CoR obligations in this ever-changing landscape.

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