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ASBFEO releases RSRT inquiry report

Ombudsman suggests setting up an industry code of conduct and exploring ways to improve payment terms


The office of Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) Kate Carnell has published its findings into the effects of the now-defunct Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) and its Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order (RSRO).

The inquiry, which was launched upon the request by the then small business minister Kelly O’Dwyer, examined the impact of the minimum rates order in the months leading up to its commencement as well as the time when it was in force.

The report reveals that RSRO imposed “significant” financial and emotional pressures on owner drivers and small business operators.

“The payments order was discriminatory in its application to owner drivers and small family businesses and this discrimination was not based on a sound and sufficient evidence base,” the report states.

Moreover, it adds that the tribunal’s handling of the entire process was marred with inefficiencies, which added to the confusion within the industry.

“The tribunal’s processes were adversarial and overly legalistic with an absence of flexibility extended to owner drivers to accommodate their lack of legal representation and limited understanding of tribunal and court-like processes.

“Owner drivers who appeared before the tribunal were not treated with due respect and felt that the tribunal lacked independence and impartiality.”

The inquiry also found that the tribunal was an “inappropriate vehicle to develop industry-wide legislation”.

The Ombudsman inquiry also includes a list of recommendations for the government, other relevant authorities and industry members to make efforts to improve issues related to road safety and payment times.

One of the key suggestions includes setting up a mandatory or non-voluntary industry code of conduct.

“The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman recommends that the Department of the Treasury and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission work with the industry to investigate developing a Code of Conduct for the road freight industry under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth).”

The issue of mandatory code of conduct has been raised several times in the recent past, with many industry bodies expressing their support.

“The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman encourages industry associations in the road freight industry to proactively engage with owner drivers and small businesses and to represent their views in government processes and build upon communication networks.”

The Ombudsman has also recommended that authorities consider setting up training programs to encourage young people to join the industry that is facing an ageing population.

“Governments should consider establishing an apprenticeship/traineeship scheme to get more young people into the trucking industry to overcome the growing lack of experienced and professional drivers and an ageing workforce.”

The Ombudsman’s report also recommends the Transport and Infrastructure Council and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) should create public awareness by funding national advertisements to educate road users about how to drive near heavy vehicles.

The report also disapproves payment-related changes to the NSW General Carriers Contract Determination (GCCD), which will be discussed by the Industrial Relation Commission in the coming weeks.

“The inquiry notes future consideration by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission of rates of pay for owner drivers covered by the General Carriers Contract Determination (NSW) should consider the experience of the RSRT payments order.

“Given the example of the payments order and its detrimental impact on owner drivers, the Inquiry strongly discourages the setting of mandated rates of pay that only apply to owner drivers and small businesses.” 

Carnell had discussed the preliminary findings of the report last month, when she also expressed her support for a 30-day payment approach for the transport sector.

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