Bluecard's future in NSW uncertain

Future of NSW industrial relations scheme responsible for Bluecard is uncertain, with claims it may cease to exist by 2010

Bluecard's future in NSW uncertain
Bluecard's future in NSW uncertain
By Brad Gardner

The future of the NSW industrial relations scheme responsible for the Bluecard is shrouded in uncertainty, with claims it may cease to exist by next year.

The Rudd Government’s failure to include the Mutual Responsibility for Road Safety (State) Award's provisions in its Fair Work Bill means they may be superseded as part of the Award Modernisation Process.

The AIRC has been tasked with federalising the award structure by January 2010, which the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) says jeopardises the Mutual Responsibility Award.

"Under award modernisation, state-based awards in the private sector are going to be phased out," ARTIO NSW Branch Secretary Hugh McMaster says.

The Award grants union access to trucking yards and driver records and requires employers to enroll drivers in safety programs and develop drug and alcohol policies.

The conditions apply to operations exceeding 500kms a day. As part of the Award, companies must buy a Bluecard for all drivers as proof they have completed the safety course.

The Rudd Government argued it needed to include the Award in the Fair Work Bill to allow NSW to continue enforcing it even after the federalised structure was introduced.

"To be clear, if this amendment is not passed, the important protections that exist for road transport drivers in NSW will cease to apply," Senator Joe Ludwig warned during the Senate debate last week on the Bill.

But while the Transport Workers Union (TWU) has also expressed concerns over the future of the Award, it is currently in talks with government to see what else can be done about maintaining the provisions.

"The Federal Government noted last week that the legislation, as it stands, will not allow critical safety provisions like those in the Mutual Responsibility Award to be able to be part of a modern award," the TWU’s Michael Kaine says.

One avenue open to the union may include approaching the AIRC, which will consider recommendations to have particular provisions enshrined in the federal awards as part of the modernisation process.

The doubt over the future of the Award comes as the NSW Government undertakes a review into its effectiveness.

The Joint Standing Committee on Road Safety is investigating the Award’s "adequacy of implementation…particularly in relation to heavy vehicle driver fatigue management and safety driving plans".

The terms of reference also include looking at integrating the State’s occupational health and safety and industrial relations legislation with national schemes to improve consistency and conformity.

Public hearings will be held during the second half of the year following the submissions process, which ends on March 27.

Industry groups such as NatRoad lobbied against extending the Award’s provisions, saying it duplicates fatigue management laws and adds to the administrative and financial burden on trucking companies.

The groups have also raised privacy issues because employers must make driver remuneration details publicly available.

The federal Opposition last week managed to gain the support of Independent Nick Xenophon and Family First’s Steve Fielding, creating the necessary majority in the Senate to stop the Government’s move.

Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss called the amendment a move "to add to union power and attack small business under the guise of industrial legislation".

ATN has sought comment from NSW Minister for Industrial Relations John Hatzistergos and the NSW branch of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA-NSW).

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