Fatigue laws need time before fixed rates, ARTA says

Government won't commit to fixing freight rates amid calls for it to consider current regulations before tampering with free market

Fatigue laws need time before fixed rates, ARTA says
Fatigue laws need time before fixed rates, ARTA says
By Brad Gardner

The Rudd Government will not commit to fixing freight rates amid calls for it to consider current regulations before tampering with the free market.

Since receiving the Remuneration and Safety in the Australian heavy Vehicle Industry report last week, Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese is yet to confirm whether its recommendations will be implemented.

He says "the Government will now consider the report" after noting the report’s findings of a link between safety and pay methods and the inability of owner-drivers to bargain effectively with large corporations.

"The Government notes the report finds current payment methods – such as payment by kilometre travelled – can encourage some drivers to speed or drive when tired," Albanese says

But the Australian Road Train Association (ARTA) questions whether adding more regulation on an industry already burdened by red tape is the answer.

"The ARTA contends there has been a raft of new fatigue and supply chain regulations recently implemented that were designed to address key issues facing the industry, with safety being the primary and immediate concern," ARTA Chief Executive Duncan Bremner says.

"Given the dramatic impact and burden their implementation has had on the industry, the ARTA believes they should be given the opportunity to prove their effectiveness before a new array of regulatory burden is put on an industry."

Under fatigue management laws, all parties involved in the freight task are bound to ensure timetables and schedules do not force drivers to work fatigued or breach driving hours.

The report into pay rates, carried out by Professor Michael Quinlan and Lance Wright QC, calls for a specialised body under federal transport legislation to be set up.

This body will be responsible for setting rates sector by sector and will be made up of industry, industrial relations and safety experts.

"This is the only viable and direct mechanism for addressing the imbalance in bargaining power confronting owner-drivers that affects safety in the road freight industry," the report says.

Under this method, drivers and companies will also be forced to carry documents on pay rates for current trips to show compliance with the relevant safe rate.

Those breaching decisions made by the tribunal will be fined.

But Bremner questions whether setting a minimum rate will actually address the safety issue.

"Are those who are breaking the law or operating unsafely now going to stop if a floor price is put in? Operators are after all in the industry to make a profit, not break even," he says.

However, he says the Government is taking the right approach in considering the report, particularly from a whole-of-government perspective.

"The ARTA recognises that safety in our industry and on the road is the single most important issue for our industry to address," Bremner says.

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