Abetz on RSRT: Evidence does not back it

By: Brad Gardner

Minister responsible for RSRT review denies link between pay and safety has been investigated.

Abetz on RSRT: Evidence does not back it
Federal employment minister Eric Abetz.


The trucking industry is no closer to finding out when the review of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) will be released, while the Federal Government continues to deny a link between pay and safety.

When questioned about the tribunal yesterday, employment minister Eric Abetz told Parliament the review’s findings would be made available "in due course".

He also took aim at the process that led to the creation of the RSRT, saying there was no evidence to support its creation.

"There was no evidentiary basis to the setting up of the tribunal," Abetz claims.

"We wanted to find out if there was such an evidentiary basis. As a result we had a review conducted. In due course, we will release that review and the Government’s response to it."

Abetz told Parliament the regulatory impact statement (RIS) used to justify the creation of the tribunal "told us that remuneration related to safety has not been investigated".

The document, by PricewaterhouseCoopers, says the tribunal will reduce heavy vehicle crashes if owner-drivers receive higher pay rates and may also reduce incentives to speed, take drugs, work fatigued, overload vehicles and forego truck maintenance.

It also notes rates of pay do influence safety in the industry and that 29 per cent of owner-drivers are being paid less than the minimum wage.

"Despite the fact that studies and academic literature have not conclusively proven the extent to which rates and safe transport outcomes are related, there are a number of market failures or factors that would suggest that it is not unreasonable to expect that the manner in which owner drivers are remunerated will impact on safety," the RIS states.

The RSRT was established on the back of a 2008 report from respected academic Michael Quinlan and lawyer Lance Wright that identified a link between low rates of pay and poor safety in the trucking industry.

That report references the studies of associate professor Michael Belzer, whose work with trucking company JB Hunt in the United States revealed increases in rates of pay led to safety improvements.

The report also cites the work of professor Ann Willamson, whose research found that drivers paid incentive-based rates were more likely to take stimulants to work longer and earn more money.

Coronial inquests in South Australia and New South Wales have previously ruled payments such as kilometre rates were dangerous, while the NSW Industrial Relations Commission — after hearing evidence — stated: "We consider that…there is a direct link between methods of payment and/or rates of pay and safety outcomes."

However, Abetz claims the RSRT is a favour from the previous Labor government to the Transport Workers Union (TWU). The union has campaigned for years for reforms to pay rates in the trucking industry.

He declined to answer whether the Federal Government will guarantee to retain the RSRT, which crossbench senator Ricky Muir announced his support for yesterday.

"But can I say that we as a government are absolutely committed to road safety," Abetz says.

"But does that mean that you need a road safety tribunal in circumstances where the evidence does not back it?"

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