Owner-driver tribunal gets approval

By: Jason Whittaker

The Federal Government is backing a fair pay and dispute resolution process for owner-drivers in Western Australia but NatRoad warns

The Federal Government is backing a fair pay and dispute resolution process for owner-drivers in Western Australia but NatRoad warns against it attempting to enforce set rates.

Breaking away from the stance of the previous government, Minister for Small Business Craig Emerson has pushed through a regulation legitimising the Owner-Drivers (Contract and Disputes) Act 2007. The regulations will take effect on August 1.

The Western Australian scheme will set up a low-cost dispute resolution tribunal, similar to tribunals in NSW and Victoria.

Owner-drivers and prime contractors will be bound by a mandatory code of conduct and the Road Freight Transport Industry Council will set pay guidelines while the Road Freight Transport Industry Tribunal will rule on disputes.

It will ensure owner-drivers are paid within 30 days of submitting accounts as well as prohibit ‘unconscionable contracts’.

However, NatRoad Chief Executive Bernie Belacic questions how any tribunal can rule what constitutes ‘fair pay’.

While supporting owner-drivers’ rights in ensuring they can recoup costs from clients, he says mandating rates "will do more harm than good".

Belacic says setting a minimum wage will restrict free enterprise in the industry and disadvantage drivers will greater running costs because they will not be able to negotiate a better freight rate with customers.

"It is a commercial market," Belacic says.

"Fixing freight rates is the not the panacea many say it will be."

Belacic also says different tribunals across a number of jurisdictions risk creating regulatory indifferences in the industry, calling for national uniformity on the issue.

His comments follow the announcement the National Transport Commission (NTC) will investigate the relationship between pay rates and safety in the heavy vehicle industry.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) has long called for an investigation into the issue, claiming clients are pushing down rates while forcing owner-drivers to work excessive hours.

Prior to the Rudd Government’s decision, the dispute resolution process was in jeopardy due to the Howard Government’s insistence on blocking it through the Federal Independent Contractors Act.

Western Australia’s minister for planning and infrastructure, Alannah MacTiernan argued the stance put at risk owner-drivers’ safety because of the relationship between road accidents and low rates of pay.

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