Coalition cries foul over safe rates amendment

Coalition fumes over amendment that it claims will leave operators using owner-drivers in a "precarious situation"

Coalition cries foul over safe rates amendment
Coalition cries foul over safe rates amendment

By Brad Gardner | March 16, 2012

Last-minute amendments slotted into a bill to overhaul trucking pay rates has led to claims operators using owner-drivers will be left "in a precarious situation".

The Federal Government yesterday introduced a raft of amendments to its Road Safety Remuneration Bill, which will create a tribunal on July 1 to set pay rates and remuneration-related conditions for employee drivers and sub-contractors.

The amendments will allow codes of conduct to be introduced to govern bargaining arrangements between owner-drivers and hirers and will require any agreements to gain the approval of the tribunal.

"Despite any other law of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory, a road transport collective agreement has no effect unless it is an approved road transport collective agreement," the amendment reads.

However, any agreements made under the NSW Industrial Relations Act, the Victorian Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Act and the Owner-Driver (Contracts and Disputes) Act in Western Australia will be exempt.

"The amendment would have the effect that all current agreements, except those made under existing state regulatory regimes, between groups of owner-drivers and hirers would be null and void as they are not approved road transport collective agreements," Truss says.

"They would have to be immediately renegotiated and that would put hirers and owner-drivers who are parties to these agreements in a precarious situation."

Truss claims the amendments will make it less attractive for businesses to use owner-drivers and that the tribunal will not have the resources to deal with the volume of contracts it will need to approve.

The Nationals MP says the changes erode the concept of an independent contractor by reducing their ability to negotiate terms and conditions that suit them.

He also admonished the government for only giving the Coalition less than one day to examine the amendments before they were debated.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese fired back at the Coalition, accusing it of trying to delay a vote on the Bill to send it to the Senate. He also suggested only rogue trucking companies oppose the reform.

"This has the support of those businesses which operate in accordance with law and which operate in the interests of their workforce as well as other road users," Albanese says.

"This is an issue which has the support of not just the Transport Workers Union but significant players in the industry including, dare I say it, the most significant trucker in this country, Lindsay Fox."

While the Bill is designed to improve road safety by making sure drivers are paid enough to discourage dangerous practices such as speeding, Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten says it will also help the industry retain workers.

"We believe this legislation will help reduce the high turnover of truckies out of the industry, and more experienced drivers are typically safer drivers," he says.

Shorten has also tried to assuage concerns among some sections of the industry about the power of the tribunal. It will be free to scrutinise sectors and workplace practices to determine if a remuneration order, such as paid waiting time, is necessary to improve safety.

"To industry members who have expressed concern over the powers of the tribunal, let me assure you that the tribunal’s approach will be evidence based and research focused," he says.

"Orders can only be made after the tribunal considers a range of factors, which include the likely impact of any order on the viability of the relevant businesses."

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