Call to unleash union under safe rates tribunal

Key player in push for changes to trucking remuneration wants TWU turned into enforcement arm of the safe rates tribunal

Call to unleash union under safe rates tribunal
Call to unleash union under safe rates tribunal

By Brad Gardner | December 16, 2011

A key player involved in the push for changes to trucking remuneration wants the Transport Workers Union turned into an enforcement arm of the proposed safe rates tribunal.

Professor Michael Quinlan, who co-authored the seminal 2008 report that lit the fuse for the campaign to overhaul trucking pay rates, wants the TWU to work in tandem with the Fair Work Ombudsman to make sure the industry complies with the tribunal’s rulings.

The Federal Government plans to introduce the tribunal on July 1 next year and hand it the power to set binding industry-wide and sector-specific rulings on pay rates and pay related conditions.

It will be able to compel the supply chain to pay drivers for waiting and to order customers to settle accounts within a set timeframe.

Quinlan wants the union to be free to march into transport yards, even if they do not have any members there, and look over contracts if they suspect the company is breaching its obligations.

"In practice, the inspectorate is never big enough to do all the activity. In my view, you have a couple of arms. The union can then alert Fair Work to the breaches," Quinlan tells ATN.

"I don’t see that as part of the tribunal set up at this stage but I would actually be an advocate of that."

Unions currently need to apply to Fair Work Australia for a permit to inspect a company’s records. However, there are restrictions on what an official can inspect or copy.

Quinlan, who has long argued of a link between low rates of pay and poor safety, says the TWU has an interest in ensuring all drivers are paid correct rates.

The TWU recently gained the power to scrutinise sub-contractors working for the majors to ensure drivers are paid correctly and outside hire is not jeopardising employees’ job security by undercutting rates.

Quinlan says it is essential the Fair Work Ombudsman takes a proactive approach to enforcing the tribunal’s rulings, including running random blitzes, education campaigns and information sessions.

"But when you get down to the people who are showing absolutely no inclination to comply, that’s when you come in with the big guns," he says.

Quinlan says the Ombudsman should develop a list of problematic areas in the industry and focus its efforts on improving compliance.

"Your aim is not to bash everybody over the head but where you identify systematic non-compliance you will obviously go after it because that sends a message," he says.

The occupational health and safety expert is confident the tribunal’s ability to target specific areas of the supply chain means it can make a difference.

"I’ve looked at the structure and the scope of activities and I think that sounds fine because they have the capacity to target areas that are particularly problematic. They’ve got the capacity to set different determinations across different sectors of the industry," he says.

The Federal Government last month announced it would create the tribunal within Fair Work Australia to ensure employee drivers and owner-drivers are paid enough to do their jobs safely.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese blames unpaid waiting time for dangerous road behaviour, saying drivers are encouraged to work longer and harder to make up for lost time.

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