'Historic opportunity' as committee hearing begins

Union presses ahead with safe rates campaign as parliamentary inquiry holds hearing on the proposed reform

'Historic opportunity' as committee hearing begins
'Historic opportunity' as committee hearing begins

By Brad Gardner | February 15, 2012

The Transport Workers Union has continued to press its case for a safe rates tribunal as a parliamentary committee begins scrutinising the Federal Government’s proposed reform.

The Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications is today holding a public hearing on the Road Safety Remuneration Bill, which aims to establish the tribunal to rule on rates from July 1.

In a press conference prior to his appearance before the committee, TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon again cited the power of the major retailers as justification for changes to trucking remuneration.

"We have had more than 20 years of cross party reports, inquiries and coronial reports which have identified the link in the transport industry between safety and rates of pay," he says.

"The dangerous conditions and excessive hours demanded by major retailers such as Coles are directly responsible for carnage on our roads."

Sheldon lambasted clients for using their power to demand "dangerous delivery schedules" and to force drivers to queue unpaid for hours on end.

"Their bully-boy tactics and demands are leading to death, devastation and danger across Australia. Truckies are not machines; they deserve decent pay and conditions," he says.

Sheldon was joined by the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) owner-driver representative, Frank Black, who claims owner-drivers are suffering from client pressure and being forced to compromise on safety because of poor pay.

"Companies should not be allowed to put profit ahead of lives," he says.

In a written submission to the committee, University of NSW Professor Michael Quinlan refers to a body of work over more than two decades linking pay to safety.

He says there is "substantial and compelling evidence" to support the link, citing the work of professors Ann Williamson and Michael Belzer as examples.

"I strongly urge that the parliament should take this historic opportunity to address a long standing and very serious problem – action that will be to the greater benefit of the Australian community," Quinlan writes.

He says clients will have an incentive to adopt a more efficient and safer approach to freight handling practices if they are charged for loading and unloading times.

But submissions from individual trucking companies have expressed concerns over how the Bill will be implemented.

Terrie Bradley, who runs AJ &T Bradley with her husband, says it will be nearly impossible to set a safe rate across the board because of the varying nature of the freight task.

She believes the focus should instead be on payment terms to require clients to settle accounts on cash on delivery basis or no later than 14 days.

"It is known that it is common practice for people to be paid 30, 60 or 90 days after receipt of invoice and this above all else causes more stress than any other factor and inevitably has the ability to cause accidents," she says.

Bradley says safe rates should be limited to linehaul sub-contractors working for multi-national companies, while regulators need to go back to the drawing board on work diaries.

She claims the diaries are causing a high level of anxiety among drivers who fear losing their licence for spelling mistakes or adding up hours incorrectly.

Bonaccord Freightlines Director Ross Ingram also expressed concerns about work diaries in his submission. He wants more training for enforcement officers to prevent different interpretations of the work diary and changes to the fines structure.

"Small clerical errors by drivers should not attract fines when the documents are so ambiguous," he says.

Ingram also says he is concerned over how the proposed safe rates reform will be implemented and who will wear the cost. He says the company already pays its drivers above the award wage to cover loading and unloading times.

The veteran operator, whose company runs 35 trucks, says he is often frustrated by a lack of consistency on road laws between the states. However, he adds that chain of responsibility law "has been a step in the right direction".

In his submission, Ingram writes that large receivers have a good record meeting their obligations, but small to medium distribution centres "still leave a lot to be desired".

"They have tight unloading times with little consideration for the distances involved in getting goods from one place to another," he says.

The public hearing into the Bill will run from 4pm to 6pm today, with the TWU the first to appear.

The Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Logistics Council and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations will follow.

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