Time to 'extract the finger' on safe rates

TWU says government must pull the trigger on safe rates, as backbencher warns truckies at risk if nothing is done

Time to 'extract the finger' on safe rates
Time to 'extract the finger' on safe rates
By Brad Gardner | June 23, 2011

The union movement says it is time the Federal Government pulled the trigger on safe rates, as a Labor backbencher calls for the reforms to be introduced urgently.

Labor’s MP for the federal NSW seat of Greenway, Michelle Rowland, yesterday told Parliament many of the 1,000 professional truck drivers in her electorate would be at risk of being pressured to work long hours, speed and take drugs unless safe rates were implemented.

Rowland backed the TWU’s campaign for safe rates and says the scheme must apply to employed and self-employed drivers, be linked to chain of responsibility and require operators to use safe trip plans.

TWU NSW Secretary Wayne Forno tells ATN the government is facing difficulties in the drafting the legislation, but adds that: "It is more than timely they started to legislate."

"The government needs to extract the finger and get something done," he says.

"I’m getting a bit impatient but I guess I will have to be patient for the membership."

Rowland says the fatality rate in the trucking industry is "totally unacceptable".

"In 2010, 330 Australians lost their lives because of the ongoing crisis in the road transport industry," she says.

Rowland referred to a conversation she had with a former truck driver of 45 years, Brian Thomas, who told her drivers laboured under significant stress and fatigue.

"The big bosses push truck drivers too hard and demand they meet near-impossible targets. These demands put everyone in danger – the truckies and other road users," Thomas told her.

While the Federal Government is yet to respond to submissions to its discussion paper on creating a safe rates scheme, Nationals Senator John Williams says he is concerned of the effect the reform will have on the price of goods.

During Senate estimates hearings in May, Williams sought more information on how the scheme would work. He argued customers would need to pay the same rate for drivers travelling each way.

"I will give you an example of safe rates as I understand it. I might load up at Inverell [in NSW] and take a load of wool to Brisbane and charge $2,000 and I might bring back some hay, for example, at the time of the drought and charge $500. Safe rates is about $1,250 each way instead of being for the $2,500 round-trip," he said during the hearings.

The Federal Government has so far refused to set a date for the scheme’s introduction, with Workplace Relations Parliamentary Secretary Jacinta Collins using her appearance at the TWU’s federal council meeting last month to say it would be progressed "in a timely manner".

Industry groups such as the Australian Logistics Council and NatRoad are opposed to safe rates.

NatRoad President Rob McIntosh says the government should instead mandate paid waiting times.

The nation’s largest transport and logistics operator, Toll, is also fighting against reform. It claims drivers will be worse off.

The discussion paper raises a number of options to implement safe rates, including extending the coverage of the Fair Work Act to owner-drivers to grant them rights currently restricted to employees.

The paper proposes a tribunal-like system capable of setting different rates for industry sectors, vehicle configurations and types of trucks.

According to the paper, a safe rate will be the minimum rate necessary for an owner-driver to recover and earn the equivalent of the award wage while driving safe and reasonable hours.

It says pay rates for truck drivers have steadily declined over the last 30 years despite significant growth in the freight task.

The paper cites the work of Professor Michael Quinlan and Lance Wright QC, who found low pay rates encouraged truck drivers to speed and work long hours to make ends meet.

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