Backdown? Minimum rates pledge far from safe


Government undecided on 'safe rates' amid claims it is looking at an alternative system for trucking industry

Backdown? Minimum rates pledge far from safe
Rates pledge far from safe
By Brad Gardner | October 27, 2009

The Rudd Government has not yet made a decision on ‘safe rates’ amid claims it is looking at an alternative pay model for the trucking industry.

A spokesperson for Minister for Industrial Relations Julia Gillard says recent industrial relations changes have forced the Government to re-evaluate the findings of a report calling for an overhaul to remuneration methods

The Fair Work Act and two modern transport awards have been introduced since the report was handed to the Government last year urging changes to the way sub-contractors are reimbursed.

"In recognition of these further developments the Government is carefully considering the NTC’s [National Transport Commission] report," the spokesperson says.

The South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) Chief Executive, Steve Shearer, claims the Government is now looking at the viability of a fair contract system which the report did not recommend but SARTA advocates.

"I think what is being carefully considered is whether adopting a safe rates regime as opposed to a contractual scheme is the right way to go," Shearer says.

"The response we have got is that the message seems to be getting through."

SARTA wants a tribunal established similar to ones in Victoria and Western Australia whereby a board rules on pay disputes between sub-contractors and contractors.

Unlike a flat rate proposed by the Transport Workers Union, rates will be decided on a case-by-case basis under SARTA’s model.

Although saying Gillard still stands by her comments in support of ‘safe rates’ made at this year’s ACTU Congress, the spokesperson would not comment when asked repeatedly if ‘safe rates’ would be introduced.

But TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon says he met Gillard last night and was given a commitment ‘safe rates’ will be introduced.

He says he is confident the Government will act, but has opposed any moves to implement SARTA’s proposal.

"The main problem with a fair contracts system, as proposed by Steve Shearer, is that it still pits the driver against the client. We need broad-based change across the industry so the odds are not stacked against individual drivers," Sheldon says.

"On the other hand, it is encouraging to see the likes of Steve Shearer finally admitting the bleeding obvious: we need a safe rates system."

Shearer says SARTA has never opposed an equitable pay rate for sub-contractors but is interested in how it is achieved.

The NTC’s report echoed the findings raised by Professor Michael Quinlan and Lance Wright QC and called for government intervention in the marketplace to establish a federal body to oversee a ‘safe rates’ scheme.

The authors argued coronial inquests, government inquiries and court and tribunal hearings show payment levels are linked to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use.

Quinlan and Wright presented their findings to the Australian Transport Council last November.

During the ACTU Congress earlier this year, Gillard told attendees truck drivers should not be forced to die to make a living.

"And we will be working on safe rates to prevent them from having to take that risk," she said at the time.

WHEN WILL ‘SAFE RATES’ BE INTRODUCED?
Although the union is still pushing for legislation by the end of this year, Shearer has flagged introducing changes alongside national laws to be rolled out in 2013.

"It would make a lot more sense to do it on an effective national scale," he says, adding that the intervening time should be spent getting the laws ready.

NatRoad Chief Executive Bernie Belacic says it will be surprising if legislation is introduced this year because the Government has not yet issued a regulatory impact statement (RIS) and a ‘safe rates’ model has not been decided upon.

He says the group is still consulting with the Government and believes the issue "is on the radar".

The TWU has expressed "frustration" that its long campaign for change has not yet led to new laws but Sheldon says the Government must get it right.

"We are no less determined now than when we launched the campaign seven years ago," he says.

"Owner-drivers and employers know full well how critical it is that we have a market where clients are held accountable for fair and safe rates."

Gillard’s spokesperson says the Government "remains committed" to consulting industry groups, employers, the union and state governments on how best to improve safety in the trucking industry.

THE DEMISE OF THE SUBBIE?
However, Shearer has warned of potential consequences for sub-contractors depending on the Government’s actions.

He says it is possible ‘safe rates’ might impost conditions to the point trucking may become uncompetitive against other modes such as rail and make the use of owner-drivers less attractive.

"There is a balance that needs to be contemplated," Shearer says.

But while saying demand might fall, Shearer adds that there will always be a market for owner-drivers.


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