Industry Issues, Transport Features

How has the transport industry reacted to the closing loopholes bill?

Members of Australia’s road transport industry say the world-leading legislation could be lifesaving

It’s been a week and a half since the federal government’s closing loopholes bill passed the Senate. With it saw the Fair Work Commision (FWC) gain the power to issue the road transport contract chain mandatory orders. 

The legislation has been a much-debated topic among the transport industry. In September 2023, Australian Trucking Association (ATA) chair David Smith said the bill’s passing would deliver fairer contracts for all trucking businesses. 

“The FWC’s potential power to make contractual chain orders could enable it to stamp out unfair contract terms, including excessively long payment times, unfair rate review, fuel levy clauses and one-way terminations for convenience,” Smith says. 

The proposed bill by the ATA also included road transport minimum standards orders being published 24 months before they come into effect. Smith says the federal government and ATA had consulted with the industry on these provisions. 

The standards have since been added to the amended closing loopholes bill. Smith says the ATA was able to ensure the FWC doesn’t become an additional safety regulator for the transport industry. 

“The commission will not be able to make orders covering matters comprehensively dealt with under the Heavy Vehicle National Law or other relevant laws,” Smith says. 

“I want to thank Minister Burke and his staff for considering our proposed changes on their merits.” 

Road transport bodies such as the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO), National Road Freighters Association (NRFA), Transport Education Audit Compliance Health Organisation (TEACHO) and the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) have all been long-time advocators for the bill. 

Victorian Transport Association (VTA) CEO Peter Anderson says it’s been a pleasure to work on passing the legislation as ARTIO secretary. 

“Through our ARTIO membership, the VTA supported advocacy that will deliver the road transport industry a more effective framework that addresses the many industrial relations gaps within the industry,” Anderson says. 

“The beneficiaries of the ongoing improvements will be business operators, drivers and logistics workers that will come into the road freight industry in the decades to come.” 

Anderson says discussion on the bill will continue at this year’s VTA State Conference in Phillip Island during its industrial relations and minimum standards session. 

NRFA vice president Glyn Castanelli says the bill is a major step towards lifting standards for truck drivers doing their jobs. 

“Minimum standards will give owner drivers at the bottom of the food chain the ability to negotiate fair and sustainable work,” Castanelli says.  

“This has the potential to be lifesaving and life-changing for transport families across the country.” 

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine says the bill’s legislation will make the transport industry more viable. 

“When this reform comes into effect, gig economy workers will gain rights and protections that cannot be evaded by words in a contract or a classification label,” Kaine says. 

Kaine adds that Australia is now leading the way in eradicating century-old exploitation that has resurfaced since the introduction of new technologies. 

Kaine says the TWU’s main focus will be making sure gig companies such as Uber and Menulog make drivers’ jobs secure and sustainable. 

“The TWU will reconvene urgent discussions with gig companies on these standards to work towards a smooth and effective application process to the Fair Work Commission,” Kaine says. 

The TWU says it aims to establish fairer, safer standards for all transport workers under the new legislation. It will also look to reconvene industry discussions on addressing unsustainable payment times in road transport. 

FBT Transwest managing director Cameron Dunn says the company has advocated to Parliament House for the bill’s passing over recent years. 

“A good business is a safe business. A safe business is a sustainable business. This is what this bill will deliver,” Dunn says. 

“It will allow people to come to work and go home safely.” 

TEACHO chair Paul Ryan says the legislation has been years in the making and can take exploitation out of the gig economy. 

International Transport Workers Federation general secretary Stephen Cotton says gig exploitation has put pressure on transport workers globally. 

“Rights and standards for transport workers in Australia shows other countries this is possible,” Cotton says. 

NatRoad CEO Warren Clark says he questions the exclusion of livestock road transport from the FWC’s new powers. Despite these questions, Clark says the overall balance of the bill sets the transport industry up for a better future. 

“Any orders will only be able to be made with industry input, extensive consultation and lead time,” Clark says. 

“Crucially, they must have regard for competition and the industry’s viability. 

“The hard work starts now to make sure the new law operates as it was designed to.” 

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