In his near 50 year career as a truck driver, John Waltis has lost more than 52 colleagues to crashes, fatigue and roadside incidents.
“I don’t think there’s one of us who goes to work of a day or a night, driving the highway and doesn’t wonder if there’re going to have an accident or if they’re going to go home each night,” he says.
On Tuesday, the NSW man will be one of the many transport workers, Transport Worker Union (TWU) members and councillors who will march from Sydney’s Hyatt Regency to King St on Wednesday in a vigil for drivers who have been killed in truck crashes.
There, Mr Waltis will give a speech about the need for reform in the industry, including minimum standards around hours worked, and a new regulatory body to tackle concerns.
“I’ve been doing this on and off since 1972. I know that many people who thought the same as I did
“It could be something you do stupidly wrong, or the bloke going past you, or going towards you.”
According to the TWU, 300 drivers have died since the industry safety watchdog was abolished by the Turnbull government in 2016. A total of 25 have died in the first five months of this year alone.
Mr Waltis said drivers ultimately cop the pressure on businesses to deliver on promises to clients.
Fatigue is a major issue.
“When I worked for Linfox, where I worked for just about 30 years, they were always saying to people: ‘We’re cutting tight to the bone, we’ve got to make sure we do it smarter, and we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t cost us a fortune doing it,’” he said.
“In the old days, you’d have a pillow with you, you’d put it on the steering wheel, you put your head on the wheel, drop your arms alongside the steering wheel and when you got pins and needles, you knew you had enough sleep, because it would hurt too much.
“I did that for years.”
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine expressed his sympathies to the families and communities of truck drivers who had been killed on the job, and had their lives “torn apart by tragedy”.
“When wealthy companies at the top of the supply chain squeeze transport contracts, demanding transport to be quicker and cheaper, there is a terrible human cost: throughout the supply chain, pressure is piled on drivers and operators to speed, skip vital maintenance and drive fatigued,” he said.
Mr Kaine called on federal parliament to “urgently back in reform” to set minimum standards within the trucking industry.
“That starts with committing to taking responsibility for safer, fairer and more sustainable supply chains,” he said.
“Transport workers are committed to rolling actions until there is real reform to help save trucking lives and businesses.”
It’s expected federal Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke will introduce legislation to establish enforceable standards in the second half of 2022.