Albanese kick-starts process for trucking tribunal

Government introduces bills to create safe rates tribunal, as sceptical Opposition demands more answers and corporate sector bemoans greater regulation

Albanese kick-starts process for trucking tribunal
Albanese kick-starts process for trucking tribunal

By Brad Gardner | November 23, 2011

The Federal Government has kick-started the process towards a safe rates tribunal but a sceptical Opposition is demanding greater scrutiny of a proposal it believes may not lift safety standards.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese today introduced the Road Safety Remuneration Bill and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill to establish a tribunal to set pay rates and conditions for the trucking industry.

Housed within Fair Work Australia, the tribunal is due to begin on July 1 next year and will be free to issue binding rulings on remuneration for specific sectors of the trucking industry. Legislation will also create a separate education and compliance framework.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the tribunal will make sure drivers receive "a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work" and reduce dangerous on-road behaviour, but the Coalition has again questioned the link between rates and safety.

A spokesman for shadow transport minister Warren Truss has queried whether higher rates will bring down the road toll. He says the Coalition will send the Bills to a committee to look into the matter and examine whether other regulatory measures could be used to improve the lot of truck drivers.

"It is not just about money. It requires a holistic approach to examine behavioural change," the spokesman says.

"We want to have a look at the full gamut of factors that can actually influence and lead to better behaviour on roads, safe behaviour on roads and develop that culture of safety because at the end of the day that’s the thing that’s going to matter most."

His comments came as the corporate sector lined up against greater regulation of the transport industry, with the Ai Group and the Australian Logistics Council bagging the government’s plans.

Ai Group CEO Heather Ridout has dismissed as "flawed logic" that paying higher rates will improve safety. She claims better roads, fatigue management, strong compliance and enforcement and education and training are the best way to lift industry standards.

The National Transport Commission in 2008 reported a link between poor safety and low rates of pay, while studies from Professor Michael Belzer, Professor Michael Quinlan and Dr Ann Williamson all argue economics heavily influences safety.

The US-based Belzer’s studies have shown increases in pay have led to demonstrable reductions in heavy vehicle accidents.

Labelling a tribunal as an unnecessary extra layer of red tape, the ALC says national heavy vehicle regulations and national workplace health and safety standards are sufficient to address the problems in the trucking industry.

ALC Managing Director Michael Kilgariff says workplace health and safety reforms will impose a duty on transport and logistics operators to eliminate or minimise health and safety risks.

Chain of responsibility requirements will also be built into national regulations and enforced by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator from January 1, 2013.

"Government should concentrate less on imposing another layer of regulation in the form of pay setting, which will be unworkable, is un-costed and ultimately unnecessary," Kilgariff says.

He has also called for the government to encourage the use of industry codes of practice and on-board tracking technologies to improve safety.

Kilgariff wants a senate inquiry into the bills to determine if the tribunal will work. He has also taken a shot at the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which has campaigned heavily since 2008 for a safe rates scheme.

"Safe rates as articulated by the TWU is little more than a marketing slogan that will not achieve the objectives being sought," he says.

Gillard says truck drivers "do it very tough" and the tribunal will make sure they are paid a safe rate to bring down the heavy vehicle road toll.

"I think everybody knows that truck drivers work long and hard for the money that they receive. Working long and hard can sometimes mean that they end up with problems of speed, fatigue and dangerous work practices," she says.

The Coalition in September this year hinted it would not support any government effort to regulate trucking pay rates, with Truss claiming there was no evidence to support the move.

"Safe rates is a spurious argument at best," he said at the time.

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

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