Truss lets fly as Opposition refuses to support safe rates

Nationals leader rubbishes safe rates tribunal, labelling it government payback for TWU support and a regulatory burden on truckers

Truss lets fly as Opposition refuses to support safe rates
Truss lets fly as Opposition refuses to support safe rates
By Brad Gardner | March 1, 2012

The federal Opposition has refused to support a proposal to overhaul pay methods in the trucking industry and has derided it as government payback for receiving union support.

Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss yesterday let fly at the Federal Government’s Road Safety Remuneration Bill, which will establish a tribunal on July 1 to set rates and payment methods in a bid to improve safety.

The move is in response to findings that low rates of pay and incentive-based payments encourage drivers to commit unsafe practices.

"This bill will not deliver safer roads. It is an industrial relations measure, not a measure about road safety, and is therefore very difficult to support," Truss claims.

The Opposition’s climate change spokesman Greg Hunt went one further in declaring: "We cannot support this bill."

During parliamentary proceedings, Truss reiterated his previous claims there was no evidence linking pay and safety but also went further in criticising the work that led to the Bill being introduced.

The Federal Government has used a 2008 National Transport Commission report on pay rates to justify reform, but Truss says the choice of the individuals selected to conduct to the work on the NTC’s behalf "disturbed" him.

While he did not address any of the findings contained in the report, Truss argued the work was not impartial because of Lance Wright QC’s long involvement in the union movement and Professor Michael Quinlan’s support for remuneration reform.

"It seems that the committee was chosen to achieve a desired outcome. The long cherished desire of the Transport Workers Union to have somebody interfering and deciding to determine what the rates of pay should be for truck drivers has come to fruition through it," Truss claims.

"It is clear that this legislation is the payback to the Transport Workers Union for loyal and faithful service to the Labor Party over many years."

Truss also criticised Quinlan for referencing his own work in the inquiry, which also drew on coronial findings and the extensive work of professors Ann Williamson and Michael Belzer.

Truss claims the tribunal, which will have the power to mandate waiting times and payment terms, will add another layer of red tape to business and increase the price of goods.

Labor MP Chris Hayes defended the government’s plan, saying the tribunal is necessary to help drivers and improve road safety. He echoed TWU comments in criticising the likes of Coles for its power over the supply chain.

"Clearly the financial pressures being placed on road transport companies and in turn on the truck drivers by major retail clients is immense," he says.

"They determine the work practices and timetabling. They have the power and the opportunity to impose good, safe work practices, but they have failed to do it."

Hayes says the tribunal will ensure all parties in the supply chain are held accountable for maintaining safe standards, while McEwen MP Rob Mitchell argues the reform will take away from drivers the stress of worrying about how they are going to make ends meet.

"We have a moral responsibility to ensure that people get a fair day’s pay and to ensure that they are not pushing themselves over just [to] make a living," Mitchell says.

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