Tribunal costs too much for too little: NatRoad

Existing regulations must be given time to work before the introduction of a safe rates tribunal, NatRoad says

Tribunal costs too much for too little: NatRoad
Tribunal costs too much for too little: NatRoad

By Brad Gardner | November 28, 2011

Industry group NatRoad has rejected claims the Federal Government’s proposed safe rates tribunal will improve road safety, as the peak trucking lobby rules out getting involved in the issue.

In an interview with the ABC’s National Interest program, outgoing NatRoad CEO Bernie Belacic questioned the worth of the recently-announced tribunal, which is due to begin on July 1 next year.

It will have the power to set pay rates and pay-related conditions for the trucking sector, including mandating paid waiting times, outlawing incentive-based remuneration and dictating payment periods.

The government says the tribunal will improve road safety by ensuring owner-drivers and employees are paid enough to discourage them from speeding, working fatigued or foregoing vehicle maintenance.

However, Belacic claims the influence of pay rates on heavy vehicle accidents is arguable and that the government could have adopted other measures to improve the industry’s safety record.

"Realistically we need to take, very much, strong practical measures to address road safety outcomes and we don’t think that the [Road Safety Remuneration] Bill tabled in parliament…is actually going to lead to that," he says.

"There’s an awful lot of regulation in the trucking industry in relation to fatigue and speed all kinds of things and that really needs to be given opportunity to prove itself, and indeed going off of statistics it actually is paying off."

Belacic says the cost of running the tribunal, which a regulatory impact statement estimates will be $228.4 million over 10 years, could be funnelled into other projects he believes will have a demonstrable impact on safety.

"…there are many, many other initiatives that we’d like to work on such as the national road safety strategy, such as seatbelt wearing…that would deliver much more tangible, measureable, strong, direct outcomes in terms of delivering a better road safety outcome," he says.

The cost of the tribunal is modelled on it covering 60 percent of the owner-driver sector and achieving a 90 percent compliance rate. PricewaterhouseCoopers, which conducted the RIS, says the cost of the tribunal is "minor".

The government has budgeted $11.77 million over four years for the tribunal, with funding to come from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has ruled out any involvement in debate on the Bill or over the creation of a tribunal.

In a statement following the government’s announcement, ATA CEO Stuart St Clair says the group will not support or oppose the reform because it falls within the realm of industrial relations.

"We do not deal with industrial relations," St Clair says.

"The government’s bill is clearly about industrial relations. It includes all the usual provisions you would expect to see in an industrial relations bill, including the right of unions to enter businesses and inspect documents."

Although it opposes the Transport Workers Union’s (TWU) safe rates campaign, NatRoad has backed mandatory paid waiting times.

Earlier this year the group argued its consultations with the trucking industry showed the most pressing safety and remuneration issue was non-payment for time spent waiting to load or unload trucks.

Former NatRoad Presdent Rob McIntosh said at the time some distribution centres were requiring drivers to wait up to 10 hours to load or unload their vehicles.

"Drivers are mostly unpaid for this component and are unable to claim the waiting time as an official rest break – having consequential implications for earning capacity and fatigue management," he says.

PricewaterhouseCoopers says mandatory paid waiting times could deliver a $155 million economic boost to owner-drivers. The RIS also says 29 percent of the sector is earning less than the minimum wage.

According to the document, the tribunal will reduce pay-related heavy vehicle crashes by 25 percent if it achieves the modelled coverage and compliance rates.

Related articles:
Owner-drivers toil for a pittance
Powerful tribunal to reshape trucking landscape
Albanese kick-starts process for trucking tribunal
Give us paid waiting times: NatRoad

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