Powerful tribunal to reshape trucking landscape

The safe rates tribunal will be given wide-ranging powers to rewrite the rulebook on remuneration standards

Powerful tribunal to reshape trucking landscape
Powerful tribunal to reshape trucking landscape

By Brad Gardner | November 24, 2011

The safe rates tribunal will be given wide-ranging powers to rewrite the rulebook on remuneration standards, including stamping out certain payment methods and mandating conditions across the entire supply chain.

Introduced into the House of Representatives yesterday, the Road Safety Remuneration Bill proposes establishing a tribunal within Fair Work Australia to pry into all sectors of the trucking industry to address economic factors that encourage dangerous work practices.

The tribunal will be charged with dictating pay rates for employees and independent contractors and removing any incentive-based payments deemed unsafe.

It will be able to set payment periods and make sure drivers are compensated for all the work they do, "including loading or unloading their vehicles or waiting for someone else to load or unload their vehicles".

The tribunal will begin operating on July 1 next year and will have the clout to go up the supply chain to put all parties using road transport services under the microscope on pay rates.

"The Bill empowers the tribunal to inquire into sectors, issues and practices within the road transport industry and, where appropriate, determine mandatory minimum rates of pay and related conditions for employed and self-employed drivers," Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese says.

The Bill is in response to the National Transport Commission’s 2008 report that identified a link between low rates of pay and poor safety. Drawing on a wide body of academic research, the report concluded economics drives safety standards in the industry.

In introducing the Bill, Albanese blamed unpaid waiting time for encouraging dangerous on-road behaviour, telling parliament some drivers have to wait up to 10 hours for their trucks to be loaded or unloaded.

"The loss of 10 hours’ driving time is an incentive to make up for lost time, by driving additional hours, speeding or contravening mandatory fatigue management systems," he says.

Albanese highlighted the "particularly grave" safety record of the trucking industry, saying the fatality rate is 10 times higher than the average for all industries. He claims owner-drivers are forced to accept work at the going rate or have no work at all.

"Drivers are at the bottom of the contracting chain and have little commercial ability to demand rates which would enable them to perform their work safely and legally," he says.

Individual drivers, companies, industrial associations and employer groups will be able to make applications to the tribunal on pay rates and conditions. The tribunal will also be free to act on its own initiative.

The industry will be given advance notice of the tribunal’s plans, with the government setting a requirement for it to prepare a work program for the year ahead identifying matters to be looked into.

"These matters may be about any or all of the matters related to a sector or sectors of the road transport industry, issues for the road transport industry or a sector of the industry, or practices affecting the road transport industry or a sector of the industry," the Bill says.

However, the tribunal will be given the flexibility to make orders outside of the work program.

Albanese says the tribunal will also apply "safe remuneration approvals" to collective agreements between an individual company and the independent contractors working for it. Any approval lasting longer than one year must contain a mechanism to adjust terms and conditions.

"This is to ensure that the remuneration for road transport drivers remains in line with CPI, minimum wage and other considerations," the Bill says.

The Fair Work Ombudsman will be given the task of enforcing the tribunal’s orders through a range of education and assistance measures, with its inspectors given free rein to investigate breaches and to launch proceedings against offenders.

Furthermore, drivers will be permitted to haul their bosses before the tribunal if they suspect they were fired for refusing to work in an unsafe manner.

The provision will also apply to independent contractors, while an employer will be able to front the tribunal if it believes a client’s rates and conditions prevent it from paying its drivers adequately.

The tribunal will be made up of at least three members of Fair Work Australia and a maximum of three people with experience in transport and logistics, truck driving, business or workplace health and safety.

"The measures being introduced will ensure pay and pay related conditions encourage drivers to drive safely, manage their hours and maintain their vehicles," Albanese says.

While saying transport safety has improved over the years, Albanese told parliament there are still an unacceptably high number of accidents and deaths.

"Without further action, the number of accidents will remain unacceptably high, impacting truck drivers, their industry and the wider community. Lasting reform is necessary."

The Opposition wants the Bill to go to a committee to examine whether pay rates influence safety.

It has disputed the link, with opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss ridiculing the union’s campaign and claiming there is no evidence to show fixing pay rates will improve safety.

What do you think of the proposed tribunal? Leave your thoughts below or contact ATN.

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