FWO still in training on minimum rates order advice
Employees are being trained to offer advice and provide information to help the trucking industry
The agency tasked with educating the trucking industry about minimum rates for owner-drivers is still trying to come to grips with the scheme itself.
Employees at the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) are currently being put through training on the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order, while information to help the trucking industry understand its obligations is still being developed.
This is despite the fact the scheme is due to begin in less than two weeks unless the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) decides to vary the start date to January 1 next year.
A number of individuals and businesses have complained about a lack of information and conflicting claims emanating from the FWO about minimum rates.
Once the scheme is introduced, the Ombudsman will be responsible for enforcing it and educating businesses on how to comply.
"The FWO has tailored educational information available about the RSR [road safety remuneration] system on its website and is currently developing website content on the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order 2016 for the industry, in consultation with the RSR Tribunal and relevant industry stakeholders," an FWO spokesperson says.
"Our Fair Work Infoline advisers are currently being trained to answer queries and provide advice from callers as well."
The FWO’s website includes information on orders the RSRT has made and guides to help businesses and individuals to determine if certain orders cover them.
The spokesperson for the FWO adds that the agency "is well placed to provide advice, early intervention and assisted resolution services on a case by case basis" and is raising awareness about minimum rates by using social media platform Twitter.
"We published information to alert the community to the RSR Order via the FWO corporate Twitter account last month, generating 2750 impressions," the spokesperson says.
However, the industry has a different take on the FWO’s actions to date. Some have been critical of the Ombudsman, claiming it has not done enough to help the industry and has played a major role in creating confusion about minimum rates.
Nolan’s Interstate Transport director Darren Nolan has made repeated attempts to get answers to questions about minimum rates but has constantly hit a wall. He issued requests to the FWO for information in January, February and March.
"Despite multiple requests to the Fair Work Ombudsman these questions still remain unanswered as at 16/03/15," Nolan says in a written submission to the RSRT.
The Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) says little information or guidance material has been made available to the industry and that up to March 11 the FWO had no guidance material at all on its website.
"ARTIO notes that on 14 March 2016, 3 weeks before the commencement of the Order, further information has been placed on the FWO website. Notwithstanding this fact, the timeframes give industry little opportunity to absorb, interpret and apply the FWO information," the group writes in a submission to the RSRT.
"There remains continued confusion and difficulty in applying the Order to a range of circumstances or practices in the industry across the wide variety of freight tasks, particularly long distance freight tasks, and an inability for the FWO to provide definitive solutions to requests for assistance on many issues of coverage and application of the Order.
ARTIO says the FWO has provided inconsistent interpretations of the RSRT’s order and has released several different versions of a checklist designed to help people determine if minimum rates apply to them.
"ARTIO submits that given the FWO has difficulty in interpreting and applying the Order, then the industry at large faces those same difficulties," it says in a submission to the tribunal.
The Ombudsman does admit the RSRT’s minimum rates order is complex. It says there is a checklist on its website to help people; however, it is likely to change again.
"In terms of our online checklist, because of the complexity of the order and ongoing feedback we are receiving from key stakeholders, it is and will continue to be reviewed and updated where appropriate," the spokesperson says.
The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) says the FWO has expressed differing opinions to people about the RSRT’s order.
The lobby group has used this to push for minimum rates to be delayed until January 1, 2017.
"The objective evidence establishes that the Ombudsman has provided differing advice as to certain of the matters, specifically the definition of a hirer and contractor driver," the Ai Group says in a written submission to the RSRT.
"The fact that differing views have been expressed by the Ombudsman provides a substantial reason for the delayed commencement of the Order.
"Irrespective of whether the views of the Ombudsman are right or wrong, the fact is that parties have become confused as a result of the changed position."
Breaches of the RSRT’s order can result in fines of up to $54,000, but the FWO is unlikely to take a big-stick enforcement approach as soon as minimum rates begin.
"While currently we do not have plans to conduct an audit or targeted campaign in respect of the RSR jurisdiction, we will of course monitor the impact and operation of the second RSR Order once it takes effect in April 2016," the spokesperson says.