Safe rates a step closer: Gillard

Proposal for safe rates scheme released next month, as government talks up independent body to rule on pay

Safe rates a step closer: Gillard
Safe rates a step closer: Gillard
By Brad Gardner | June 21, 2010

A draft paper on overhauling pay rates in the trucking industry will be released next month, as the Rudd Government flags a possible new pay structure.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the options paper from her hand-picked Safe Rates Advisory Group will be released in July and open for comment for six weeks.

The paper, Safe Rates: Safe Roads, will set out options for ensuring employees and owner-drivers are paid ‘safe rates’ so they are not forced to speed or work excessive hours to make a living.

A report commissioned by the NTC in 2008 found a link between safety and poor rates of pay, recommending a new system be established to ensure drivers are adequately remunerated. The report criticised incentive-based payments such as a kilometre rate.

A statement from Gillard says there is a "compelling case" for an independent assessment of what constitutes a ‘safe rate’.

"Such an independent assessment could be based on submissions from all parties concerned including unions, industry and owner operator representatives," the statement says.

Her comments follow those by barrister Adam Hatcher – a member of the advisory group – who called for chain of responsibility for pay to hold all parties accountable.

Gillard says the paper will inform the Government’s response to a National Transport Commission report, Safe Payments Addressing the Underlying Causes of Unsafe Practices in the Road Transport Industry, which is due to be released in July.

She says the Rudd Government understands the importance of the issue to drivers, the industry and the community.

"Around 330 people are killed each year on Australian roads in crashes involving heavy vehicles, and about 16 percent of the fatalities are truck drivers," the statement from Gillard says.

"Speed and fatigue are widely acknowledged as significant factors and can be a symptom of the pressure to work long hours to meet schedules."

Following the abolishment of WorkChoices, Gillard says the Government is now working toward making the trucking industry safer.

Gillard’s announcement came during a union-led convoy to Canberra in support of safe rates.

But while the Government has accepted a link between safety and pay, the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) will make a submission claiming a new rates structure will have no impact on safety.

The Executive Director of the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA), Steve Shearer, last week urged the ATA to re-enter the debate on safe rates.

Despite originally arguing against the scheme, the ATA eventually adopted no position on the basis safe rates dealt with industrial relations which is outside the group’s responsibilities.

Shearer, who staunchly refuses any link between safety and rates of pay, claims safe rates will lead to increased costs and the Transport Workers Union will use the scheme to push an industrial relations campaign.

"Once the TWU…succeeds in establishing a safety basis for wages and rates of pay, no matter how shallow unsubstantiated and false that may be, then the industry will never recover that ground and the TWU will be able to argue for rate and wage increases based upon road safety outcomes," Shearer says.

But the ATA will be limited in what it can include in the submission after a motion was passed during its council meeting stopped it from referring to freight rates, pay rates, employment conditions and the mechanism used to create the scheme.

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