Vic contract laws 'a success', alternative to fixed rates?

Victorian owner-driver safety net laws declared a success, as Federal Government examines regulating contracts

Vic contract laws 'a success', alternative to fixed rates?
Vic contract laws 'a success', alternative to fixed rates?
By Samantha Freestone

The legislated safety net for owner-drivers in Victoria has successfully mediated 90 percent of all disputes since the laws were implemented in 2006, a report states.

The figure will boost the case to implement the laws nationally, as the Federal Government examines intervening into commercial trucking contracts in the wake of a damning report into industry safety and pay rates.

Victorian Small Business Commissioner (VSBC) Mark Brennan tells ATN the latest report on the system shows the tribunal set up under the Owner Driver and Forestry Contractors Act has dealt with over 70 owner-driver disputes involving some 160 drivers.

Under the Victorian law, the Office of the Victorian Small Business Commissioner publishes model contracts and suggests rate structures while providing operators access to a low-cost dispute resolution service for mediation with hirers.

The Victorian Transport Association, which along with the Transport Workers Union supported the laws in the State, has argued the model could be adopted nationally. A similar system has been set up in Western Australia.

The National Transport Commission report into pay schemes goes much further, controversially calling for mandated rate structures legislated by the Commonwealth. Industry groups have lobbied hard against fixing rates.

Brannan says the Victorian tribunal deals primarily with contractual disputes over pay and termination issues.

"The VSBC’s approach is to focus on the substance of the dispute, rather than allowing legal technicalities to get in the way of resolution," he says.

"The VSBC’s mantra is to ‘say no to nobody’."

He says there have been instances of alleged non-compliance with the Act that have been "addressed through information and education – another VSBC function".

"There have also been instances where issues of compliance have formed the basis for a commercially realistic resolution of the particular dispute," he says.

When asked whether the law might be suitable as a framework for a national protection system, the Commissioner highlights the "Victorian legislation does not prescribe rates of pay for drivers, nor does it make specific provision for rate structures".

"These are matters that drivers and their hirers and customers should negotiate about," he says.

Brannan says the Victorian legislation does not specifically address road safety issues, adding "there is other legislation which does this".

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