Senate blocks 'rotten' Bluecard amendment

Push to impose NSW industrial laws nationwide stalls after Senate votes against extending provisions such as Bluecard to other jurisdictions

Senate blocks 'rotten' Bluecard amendment
Senate blocks 'rotten' Bluecard amendment
By Brad Gardner

The Rudd Government’s push to impose NSW-style industrial laws nationwide has stalled after the Senate voted against extending provisions such as the Bluecard to other jurisdictions.

The majority of senators last night refused to back an amendment in the Fair Work Bill to extend the Mutual Responsibility for Road Safety (State) Award.

Under the Award, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) can access trucking yards within 24 hours notice and look through driver records even if the company involved is not union affiliated.

As well as gaining support from Coalition senators, industry groups managed to convince Independent Nick Xenophon and Family First’s Steve Fielding to oppose the Government’s amendment.

Nationals Senator John Williams criticised the Government’s actions, saying the Award duplicates current occupational health and safety laws such as fatigue management.

He also raised concerns about the cost of the Bluecard scheme to small operators.

"Inverell Freighters had about 11 truck drivers and it cost Kerry Brown, the proprietor, some $8,000 to carry out OH&S training to have his drivers qualify for the Bluecard," Williams says.

Under the Award, trucking companies are forced to pay for all employee drivers and contractors to pass a safety course and obtain the card if they drive more than 500km in one shift.

According to Williams, companies must pay about $55 for each card, with a portion of profits going to the TWU.

"To me, that has a rotten smell about it," he says.

Xenophon agreed to side with the Coalition after fierce lobbying from the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA).

Following discussions with the SARTA, Xenophon sought a guarantee from the Government that OH&S provisions would not be duplicated and the Award would be confined to NSW.

Fielding suggested sending the amendment to a committee amid warnings from Labor Senator Joe Ludwig that voting against the provisions will adversely affect safety in the trucking industry.

"To be clear, if this amendment is not passed, the important protections that exist for road transport drivers in NSW will cease to apply," he says.

According to Ludwig, the amendment must be passed otherwise the Government’s Award Modernisation Process currently being undertaken will "wipe out" the NSW provisions.

Ludwig also claims the Government has no intention of duplicating existing OH&S laws.

Calling the amendment an "enabling provision", Ludwig says the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) will be responsible for determining whether to extend the Award’s provisions beyond NSW.

As well as the SARTA, industry groups such as NatRoad, the Queensland Trucking Association and the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation lobbied against extending the NSW provisions.

Under the Award, NSW operators are required to comply with a host of union-approved obligations relating to fatigue management, drug and alcohol policies and safe driving plans.

These measures must be implemented even if the company involved already has its own system in place. Driver remuneration must also be made publicly available.

Despite the Senate’s decision, there is no certainty the Government will back away from trying to impose the provisions.

Treasurer Wayne Swan told Sky News the Government will use its numbers in the House of Representatives to send the Bill back to the Senate unamended.

"We are not going to be doing anything other than sending that legislation back up in the Senate," Swan says.

The Senate also amended the Fair Work Bill’s definition of small business.

The majority of senators agreed to classify a small business as having 20 or fewer full-time equivalent employees rather than the Government’s bid of less than 15.

Fielding agreed with Xenophon that the alteration is needed so smaller businesses can access the Government’s Small Business Fair Dismissal Code.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) welcomed the move, saying it means they can now access the unfair dismissal rules for small business.

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