Free market has failed so fix wages: Sheldon

TWU boss calls for a return to centralised wage fixing to reduce fatalities and increase industry's profit margins

By Brad Gardner

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) is pushing for a return to centralised wage fixing, claiming the free market is failing the trucking industry.

TWU Federal Secretary Tony Sheldon has accused free market advocates of supporting a regime responsible for killing truck drivers, and is using the National Transport Commission’s (NTC) review into pay rates to push the union’s case.

Sheldon says government intervention is needed because the "numerous reports" on heavy vehicle fatalities, dwindling profit margins and a spate of bankruptcies show the current system is not working.

"The free market saw 228 people killed in 2006-2007. The free market has seen a 5.4 percent increase in fatalities on that figure," he says.

NatRoad Chief Executive Bernie Belacic argues mandated rates must not be imposed on the industry because owner-drivers and operators all have different circumstances and therefore need flexibility to negotiate.

But Sheldon says it is no justification to maintain an unregulated system because the industry can be competitive and remain viable if a "safe and sustainable" rate is set.

The TWU wants a national industrial relations-type commission set up similar to the one in NSW and for an independent umpire to rule on pay rates.

In order to determine what rate to set, Sheldon says operators and owner-drivers can be surveyed across different sectors. This will address the individual needs of each sector to ensure the industry is not adversely affected, according to Sheldon.

He says all facets of the industry should be involved in the process and argue their case in front of the independent umpire, who will have the final say.

"That is a pretty civilised society to allow that to happen particularly with the number of deaths and injuries we have in this industry," Sheldon says.

Failing that, Sheldon says governments can look at the Victorian or Western Australian models. But he warns any national system must not compromise authority in favour of uniformity.

Western Australia recently passed legislation setting up a freight industry tribunal to give owner-drivers an avenue for recouping costs.

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