No evidence to support safe rates: Truss

Opposition hints it will not support safe rates, with Warren Truss saying there is no evidence to justify the reform

No evidence to support safe rates: Truss
No evidence to support safe rates: Truss

By Brad Gardner | September 7, 2011

The Coalition has hinted it will not support a Federal Government push to overhaul trucking pay rates, with Opposition transport spokesman Warren Truss claiming there is no evidence to justify reform.

While the Federal Government has committed to introducing legislation, if necessary, by the end of the year to deliver a safe rates scheme, Truss has accused those who believe tinkering with remuneration will deliver safety gains of peddling a falsehood.

In claims that flatly contradict a 2008 National Transport Commission (NTC) report that found a link between poor safety and low rates of pay, Truss has told ATN: "Safe rates is a spurious argument at best."

"There is no evidence to support the idea that government fixing safe rates will make roads safer," he says.

"If the [Transport Workers] Union can demonstrate a connection between fixing higher wages for drivers and safer roads then there would be a cause the look at the issue, but there simply isn’t any data or rationale that makes the case."

In the NTC report, Professor Michael Quinlan and Lance Wright QC called for government intervention in the marketplace to mitigate the effects of a hyper-competitive culture, incentive-based payments and the powerful influence of big-name clients.

Referring to government inquiries, coronial inquests, courts and industrial tribunal hearings, the authors argued there was an "overwhelming weight of evidence" proving a connection between pay and safety.

The TWU, which has stepped up its campaign for changes in the wake of the carbon tax announcement, wants a tribunal established to rule on what constitutes a safe rate.

Truss, who last year committed the Coalition to a $300 million rest area spend over 10 years to boost safety in the industry, is dismissive.

"We need a culture of safety on our roads and higher incomes for drivers doesn’t achieve that," he says.

Industry groups such as NatRoad, the Australian Logistics Council and the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) oppose safe rates, with NatRoad urging government to focus on paid waiting times instead.

In his speech to the NSW TWU’s annual conference in August, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese told attendees the government was committed to alleviating economic pressures on owner-drivers.

He says the government will respond by mid-October to a discussion paper released late last year setting out possible reform options, which include extending employee protections enshrined in the Fair Work Act to sub-contractors.

"The government intends to introduce legislation, if required, by the end of this year," Albanese told the union.

"I share your commitment to safe rates."

TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon says the economic pressure from clients has forced truck drivers to cut corners to make a living.

Glenn Reedman, who runs a small fleet operation out of South Australia, supports changes to keep prime contractors in check.

"The thing that is most sacred in this industry that should be legislated more so than anything else is the freight rate that we get, but it is not and we are open to exploitation by the big boys," he says.

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