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Transport unions unite globally to call for safer roads

news Press Release 21 Sep 2023

More than 50 trade unions representing over 1 million road transport workers have joined together to call for a new 'Safe Rates' system to improve workers' rights and make roads safer. 

The campaign spearheaded by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), launched today in Seoul, Korea, puts an unprecedented call on governments, road transport employers and other industry stakeholders to support a system of regulatory and legal changes which unions say will not only dramatically improve conditions for road transport drivers, but also make roads safer for all road users. 

A body of research by industry experts highlights the harsh reality for road safety when road transport drivers’ low pay and poor working conditions force them into dangerous on-road behaviours like driving for long hours, overloading and speeding. Evidence shows that paying decent wages, or ‘Safe Rates’, directly correlates with safer roads, with pay increases of as little as 10% reducing accident rates by 30%. 

“Road transport business models and the chains of exploitation in subcontracting chains, is not only unsustainable, but they’re also deadly,” said Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the ITF. "In countries all around the world, low pay and long hours for road transport drivers aren't just making life a misery for the workers who keep are our economies moving – they are also causing death and carnage on our roads. 

“Today we’re drawing a line in the sand and saying that enough is enough. We know that when drivers are paid properly and have decent conditions, they are able to work without being forced to risk their own lives and the lives of others on the roads.” 

“Responsible employers know that fair and safe rates and standards across this transport industry are not only good for workers, they make our whole industry safer, more sustainable and more productive. We stand ready to work with governments, road transport employers and major transport customers who want to be at the forefront of setting Safe Rates throughout their supply chains, and stand ready to expose those who continue to put their citizens and employees at risk." 

Unions today also acknowledged past successes in South Korea, Australia, Brazil, Canada, and other countries, where Safe Rates systems have translated into better conditions for drivers and improved road safety and industry viability. They also applauded the recent tabling of legislation in Australia to delivery Safe Rates on a national and industry-wide scale. 

Under the united ‘Safe Rates’ campaign banner, road transport workers and their unions across the world will this week participate in a series of coordinated actions. Over 50 unions have signed onto a statement of global demands, which will be delivered to governments and industry stakeholders in their respective countries, and in South Korea, where the conservative Yoon Suk Yeol Government recently dismantled the country’s successful Safe Rates system. Unions from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda will join a mass rally on September 23 condemning the government’s regressive actions. 

Union leaders participating in the rally and present at the launch commented: 

Frank Moreels, President of the Belgian Transport Workers’ Union (BTB) and President of the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF): “I’m pleased to be participating in actions in Korea, and that my union is leading the fight for road safety, fair standards for drivers and supply chain accountability in Europe. These actions are essential to stop the race to the bottom both in European road transport and globally.” 

Michael Kaine, National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union of Australia (TWU): “On the 4th of September, the Australian Government, recognising these deadly supply chain pressures in our industry, introduced legislation to Parliament which will deliver Safe Rates. With the support of workers who are joining this campaign globally, we are fighting hard to ensure this legislation will pass in upcoming months, setting an example for other countries to follow.” 

Lana Payne, President of Unifor, Canada: ““We are proud that the minimum rates and licensing system in Vancouver Port, won by Unifor members, is providing a positive example for how to achieve decent work and a viable road transport industry, which has helped to inspire the Global Safe Rates campaign. The campaign is an opportunity for us to achieve good pay and safe conditions for road transport workers nationally, and to stand in solidarity with workers around the world fighting for the same thing.” 

Bongju Lee, President of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union Cargo Truckers’ Solidarity Division (KPTU-TruckSol): “For the last three years, Safe Rates provided a decent living standard and dignity for Korean truck drivers and their families, and helped to make our roads safer. Since the government unilaterally ended the system at the end of last year, drivers’ net income has dropped by over 35%, while working time has increased by 45 hours a month. This situation is deadly. The launch of the Global Safe Rates campaign provides an opportunity for us to renew our fight against union repression and for the re-introduction of the Safe Rates system in Korea.” 

Paulo João Estausia, President of the National Confederation of Transport and Logistics Workers, Brazil (CNTTL): “In Brazil, it has become clear what is at stake if we allow pay and conditions to be set in a market that is distorted by high levels of subcontracting, informality and the concentration of power in the hands of large-scale shippers - a race to the bottom which puts workers and the travelling public at risk. Data from the World Health Organization data published in 2020 Road Traffic Accidents Deaths in Brazil reached 33,871. The need for regulation that will help ensure safer conditions is clear. The Brazil Minimum Freight Floors legislation – our version of Safe Rates – is a good first step in the right direction. The ITF is supporting full implementation of this system as part of the Global Safe Rates campaign.” 

Dan Mihadi, General Secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union, Kenya (TAWU) said: “In Kenya, and in all countries in the global south, road transport workers work in deplorable conditions. Formal employment relationships have been eroded leaving workers with no protection against exploitation. Workers are compelled to work for long hours resulting in fatigue and dangerous driving in order to recover the cost of operation, as well as earn a living. Deep rooted corruption and extortion on our roads further eats into the already low pay, leaving workers destitute. That is why TAWU is honoured to participate in the Global Safe Rates launch. We are eager to learn from the experiences of other countries and consolidate this knowledge to ensure we develop Safe Rates legislation that will permanently set minimum rates of pay and conditions for road transport workers, promote dialogue, compliance and accountability, guarantee safety on our roads, and ensure sustainability.”