Safe rates will be 'very complex'

NSW MP questions how a minimum rate can be determined for truck drivers due to their individual needs

By Brad Gardner | June 29, 2010

Mandating a minimum ‘safe rate’ will be "very complex", according to a NSW MP, who questions how it can be done.

During a parliamentary inquiry into heavy vehicle safety earlier this year, Liberal politician Daryl Maguire asked owner-drivers what a minimum rate would be to ensure they receive a sustainable income.

As well as wages, the Transport Workers Union wants a safe rate to factor in maintenance costs and the particular combination being used.

"It is very complex because of the different combinations of rigs, because of the different job requirements, the tasks that you have got et cetera. There is not an easy solution," Maguire says.

When asked what a minimum rate should be, owner-driver Sam Catena responded: "Minimum? I do not know. Someone has got to sit down and work out a minimum wage for all truck drivers."

Owner-driver Frank Black says a minimum rate can be worked out by looking at different cost factors and should vary depending on the type of job and whether waiting time is involved.

"To me a minimum rate or safe, sustainable rate would be a rate where I can maintain my vehicle and I can earn my dollars to cover my commitments within my regulated hours," Black says.

TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon attended the inquiry and reiterated the his support for a tribunal to determine what a safe rate is.

Without a minimum rate, Sheldon says the lowest rate becomes the economic bargaining chip. He says people will keep dropping rates to land work because of the hypercompetitive nature of the transport industry.

"What we have put forward is there should be a tribunal to work out across industry sectors what would be an appropriate [rate] taking into account configuration of the vehicle…," Sheldon says.

The parliamentary inquiry is being conducted by the NSW StaySafe Committee. A report on its findings into heavy vehicle safety is due to be released soon.

A discussion paper on how to introduce a safe rates scheme is due to be released this month for public consultation.

The Federal Government has committed to introducing a scheme, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard flagging a possible structure to determine a rate.

A statement from Gillard before she moved from the industrial relations portfolio 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.

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 Australian Trucking Association will oppose safe rates on the basis there is no evidence of a link and that the scheme will not improve safety.

A study by a team of academics in the US led by the Professor Michael Belzer found the probability of a truck crash fell by 36 percent for every 10 percent increase in wages.

Authors of the report commissioned by the NTC, Professor Michael Quinlan and Lance Wright QC, criticised those denying a link of providing "little if any research or credible evidence to discount or provide alternative explanations to research indicating that such connection exists".

Occupational health and safety expert Professor Ann Williams says there is "very good evidence of a link between driver payment, remuneration and safety outcomes".

Related stories:
Safe rates advisory panel targets supply chain
Safe rates group meets; proposal close
ATA re-enters safe rates debate…sort of
Safe rates a step closer: Gillard

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