O’Connor waits on delay bill after Cash's Shorten spray

By: Rob McKay


Crossbenchers needed as government eyes April 18 for RSRO legislation landing

O’Connor waits on delay bill after Cash's Shorten spray
Brendan O’Connor promises a hard look at proposed delay legislation.

 

The federal government is likely to rely entirely on Senate crossbenchers for legislative changes to delay the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order (RSRO), with the opposition responding coolly to the move.

"Given the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s record, Labor is always suspicious of their motives when it comes to workers’ wages and conditions," federal Labor employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor tells ATN.

"Therefore, we’ll examine the detail of the proposed legislation and consult with the relevant stakeholders."

Any further comment on the effort to delay the order until January 1 would await a Federal Court decision on the matter.

It is understood, the opposition expects the Federal Court to address the RSRO in some way tomorrow and believes the federal government was being hasty and disrespectful of the court in foreshadowing legislation before a decision had been made.

The comments came after federal employment minister Michaelia Cash gave political voice to transport industry rumblings about the reasons behind the formation of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT).

In justifying the April 18 introduction of legislation postponing the start date of the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order (RSRO), Cash had a crack at opposition leader Bill Shorten and Labor links with the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

"This is basically a way to price them out of the market and to force them into becoming employee drivers and ultimately members of the TWU," Cash claimed ABC Radio’s AM program.

"This is something that I have now been responding to because of the quite literally hundreds to thousands of emails and phone calls that we have received from owner drivers who are, you know, mum and dads of Australia who've mortgaged their house to buy a truck, to do the right thing, you know, put food on the table for the family, put the kids through school.

"And as a result of this stitch-up by the former government, Bill Shorten, Julia Gillard, a gift to the TWU, we now face tens of thousands of hard working Australians, truck drivers across Australia, either having their trucks repossessed or having to get rid of them because of this pay order that should have come into effect on the 4th of April."

Cash also took to task the link between pay and safety in the absence of other measures.

"Merely paying someone more does not suddenly mean they are going to institute safe work practice," she says.

"There is a myriad of other policy measures that you can put in place and are already in place that should be contributing to safer roads."

Infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester also entered the fray, making a pointed comment supporting the role of the national regulator.

"There has been strong opposition from within the industry to the commencement date of the payment order and the primary concern has been that the order places the future of smaller operators, in particular family-run businesses, at risk," Chester says.

"Together with industry, the Commonwealth argued for a delay to the commencement date of the order so that there was a reasonable timeframe for operators to understand the new conditions and adjust their business accordingly.

"It was disappointing that despite a large volume of submissions seeking to defer the order commencement date, the request was denied.

"The Government remains committed to improving safety in the road transport sector and supports the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, which also has the support of industry."

UNION VENTS

The TWU reacted with fury to the government's move.

"This is a declaration of war on the trucking industry," TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon says.

"What we have is an independent Order from the road safety watchdog to hold those at the top of the transport supply chain to account over their predatory unsafe contracts.

"But because this government has been bank-rolled by those big clients they have stepped in to halt this Order."

The union says the industry is at present already unsustainable with bankruptcies among small transport operators and owner drivers are among the highest of any industry, with 275 in the last financial year.

It also supported the RSRT’s work.

"The government had pitted itself and its rich mates against an independent tribunal which sat for two years and listened to evidence and testimony about why these safe minimum rates are necessary," Sheldon adds.

"This decision to get involved in this independent process is entirely political and undemocratic."

Meanwhile, Cash was careful to not to allow the RSRT move be conflated with the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (ABCC) initiative, saying they were completely separate issues.

CROSSBENCHERS CROSS

The number of cross-bench senators that appears persuadable to back the delay could work in the government’s favour but they appear irked by its tactics.

Palmer United Party senator Dio Wang, for one, has made his dissatisfaction with the state of ABCC negotiations plain, while Ricky Muir is said to be still contemplating his position.

Queensland senator and RSRT opponent Glenn Lazarus is certainly open to derailing the tribunal.

"I have called on the RSRT to urgently delay the remuneration order for 12 months to give all industry stakeholders the opportunity to work together to review and amend the order to achieve reasonable outcomes for all areas of the sector," Lazarus says.

"The way the order stands, it will devastate one sector of the road transport industry rather than create a level playing field for all.

"The current order forces a new charging regime on the owner-driver truckie sector which will kill off mum and dad businesses across the country.

"If the RSRT does not announce a 12-month delay this week, I will introduce a bill in the Senate during the week of 18 April to abolish the RSRT.

"I note the Turnbull Government has responded to my calls and will be putting up a bill to delay the order until January 2017, however, I don’t trust the major parties to do the right thing by owner-driver truckies and I just want the RSRT abolished.

"This is the only way I can guarantee owner driver truckies will not suffer at the hands of the RSRT.

"I suspect the Turnbull Government may try and use owner-driver truckies and the RSRT issue as a blackmail tactic to force the crossbench into supporting the ABCC bill.

"Given I will be putting up my own RSRT abolition bill, this will enable every crossbench Senator to vote on the bill without compromising their stand on the ABCC.

The Australian has reported the government has five of the six crossbench votes it needs.

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