Trucking tribunal to bring unscrupulous clients into line

The Federal Government will enact a powerful rate-setting tribunal for trucking industry to start on July 1 next year

Trucking tribunal to bring unscrupulous clients into line
Trucking tribunal to bring unscrupulous clients into line

By Brad Gardner | November 22, 2011

Unscrupulous clients suspected of running down rates and denying sub-contractors a fair return face being brought into line by a powerful tribunal from July next year.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese today confirmed legislation would be enacted to create a road safety remuneration tribunal within Fair Work Australia to set pay and safety conditions.

Announced on the back of the Transport Workers Union’s (TWU) sustained campaign for safe rates, a spokeswoman for Albanese says the tribunal will include three Fair Work Australia members plus an as-yet unknown number of health and safety experts.

Under the government’s plan, the tribunal will have the power to make binding orders on pay rates in sectors of the trucking industry with poor safety standards due to low remuneration.

It will begin operating on July 1, 2012, and the spokeswoman says bills to create the tribunal will go to the House of Representatives on Thursday.

She says the industry will be responsible for making applications and decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

"They’ll look at the evidence, make a ruling [and] the ruling will be binding," she says.

The government will also create a separate education and compliance framework, the details of which are still being finalised.

In a statement issued today, Albanese says the tribunal will improve safety by ensuring drivers are paid enough for the work they do. The National Transport Commission in 2008 found a link between low rates of pay and poor safety.

Studies by Professor Michael Belzer, a US-based academic and former truck driver, Dr Ann Williamson and Professor Michael Quinlan have consistently argued economic pressures are the root cause of unsafe practices in the trucking industry.

"Truck drivers should not have to speed, overload their trucks, drive excessive hours or cut back on vehicle maintenance just to make a decent living," Albanese says.

"Where the tribunal determines that a sector of the industry has poor safety outcomes as a result of low remuneration, the tribunal will be able to make a road safety remuneration order to improve the on-road safety outcomes for drivers operating in that sector."

The TWU yesterday held its Safe Rates Summit in Canberra to coincide with the announcement legislation would be introduced.

TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon says owner-drivers and employee drivers have for too long been squeezed by clients to meet unrealistic deadlines.

"This reform recognises that the concentrated market power of the likes of the major retailers compromises safety and compels less powerful players in the supply chain to accept rates of payment that barely cover costs and places deadly pressures on drivers," he says.

"Safe rates is not about taking competition out of the system. This is a highly competitive industry and always will be. This is about putting safety into the industry."

The proposed changes have received strong support across the industry, including among the likes of Linfox and Australian Container Freight Services.

The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association, the Queensland Trucking Association and the Victorian Transport Association attended yesterday’s event, which also included truck drivers, Quinlan, Williamson, Belzer and Senator Glenn Sterle.

"Obviously it is a big win for owner-drivers and smaller operators," the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) owner-driver representative, Frank Black, says of the tribunal.

"We have to applaud the government and applaud the TWU’s efforts for bringing it to the stage it is. It’s been a long time coming."

Black has listed pay rates, the timeframe for payments and unpaid waiting times as three key areas he wants the tribunal to examine as soon as it begins next year.

Although opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss recently ridiculed proposed changes to trucking pay rates, Black says both sides of politics should throw their support behind the reform.

"Surely none of them can vote against it if they are any sort of decent human beings," he says.

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