TWU wants price gougers hounded under safe rates

TWU claims clients and trucking operators will not be justified in raising prices under a safe rates scheme

TWU wants price gougers hounded under safe rates
TWU wants price gougers hounded under safe rates
By Brad Gardner | February 18, 2011

Transport clients and operators that attempt to raise charges under a safe rates scheme will be hounded under a union proposal to prevent price gouging.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) has written to the Federal Government saying companies that increase prices due to safe rates should answer to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or Fair Work Australia.

The Government is looking at introducing a safe rates scheme that will set a minimum rate to ensure employees and owner-drivers earn enough to make ends meet.

Referring to evidence linking low rates of pay to poor road safety, the TWU believes safe rates should lead to lower costs for consumers because the number of accidents will decline.

"Insofar as a Safe Rates system reduces deaths, injuries and accidents, the ‘safety dividend’ should be shared with consumers. No consumer should be the victim of price-gouging because of a Safe Rates system," it says.

The TWU says those guilty of price gouging should be fined under any safe rates legislation or an amended Trade Practices Act.

"Collectively, these measures should deter clients and operators from gouging, while reassuring consumers that they won’t be the victims of unscrupulous clients and operators," it says.

The TWU says consumers are currently bearing the cost of taxes, higher insurance premiums and enforcement costs because of the trucking industry’s poor safety record.

It has criticised those who believe remuneration reform will lead to higher prices for consumers, saying they neglect to mention the cost of crashes.

The TWU says each road death costs about $1.7 million, while each injury costs $408,000. Enforcement costs about $110.2 million a year.

The TWU has also taken aim at safe rate critics who claim there is no evidence that reforming pay methods will improve safety.

"Some organisations argue that no evidence exists that demonstrates how higher remuneration and conditions lead to higher safety. This is factually incorrect," it says.

Similar to a 2008 National Transport Commission report, the TWU cites evidence from Michael Belzer, court and coronial findings, academic studies and government reports that argue a link between low rates of pay and poor safety.

"Denied a proper return, let alone a margin that exceeds the cost of capital, operators undercut each other, bid the price of transport down, and attempt to recoup the losses caused by clients from drivers by not paying them for all work performed; and by paying them through incentive rates," the TWU says.

"The fact that people can be left to labour under these conditions so powerful clients can minimise their costs is outrageous."

The TWU says the modern Award system is not good enough because it does not address safe rates and conditions or impose responsibilities on clients.

It supports a low-cost tribunal system operating within Fair Work Australia that is capable of ruling on rates and conditions.

Industry group NatRoad wants the Government to instead impose paid waiting times because drivers are sometimes forced to wait for up to 10 hours before loading and unloading.

NatRoad President Rob McIntosh says it is the most pressing issue for drivers because of the effect it has on remuneration and fatigue management.

Mandating demurrage payments after a specified minimum period is a more realistic alternative to the general ‘safe rates’ proposal," he says.

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