Industry discusses plans for post-RSRT phase

By: Anjali Behl


NHVR, ALRTA and ATA highlight industry efforts aimed at addressing safety and fairness issues

Industry discusses plans for post-RSRT phase
NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto speaking at the conference.

 

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) is gone but the issue of safety and fairness in the industry is still as important now as it was before the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order 2016 (RSRO) was brought to life.

The subject was discussed at length during the Livestock and Rural Transporters Association Victoria (LRTAV) annual conference in Torquay last weekend.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) and the Australian Livestock Road Transport Association (ALRTA) outlined their plans to deal with safety and fairness issues in the wake of RSRT’s demise.

ALRTA executive director Mathew Munro discussed the possibility of a new voluntary or mandatory code of conduct that covered provisions such as payment, liability and dispute resolution.

NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto outlined some of the national regulator’s efforts, ongoing and planned, to improve safety, while ATA chair Noelene Watson discussed fairness in contracts using its newly-developed ‘contract checklist’.

Code of conduct

Munro criticised RSRT's approach in dealing with the issue of safety and for ignoring industry advice about the negative competitive impact as a result of the minimum rates order.

"The link between pay and safety has never been proven," Munro said.

"RSRT was grossly unfair to the point of putting people out of business."

However, with the RSRT now terminated, Munro said it is important to maintain momentum with regards to safety and fairness within the industry.

"There’s no doubt that all operators would like to see safety and fairness improve. We think there are already very effective safety regulators in place at the moment.

"We think that it [NHVR] is the primary safety regulator for heavy road transport. The NTC has a role to play in improving our roads over time.

"And let’s not forget we’ve always have had very broad work and safety laws right across not only our industry but all industries that go into all business activities.

"We can agree that with those things in place we don’t need another layer of safety regulation in the form of RSRT.

"However, NHVR has only limited role to play when it comes to fairness… it does not deal with commercial issues that go along running a transport business."

While the Australian Competition and Consumer Act 2010 deals with fairness issues in the general sense, it is quite possible for bigger players to use their market power to bend the rules when it suits them – something that has been seen in the transport industry alone, Munro said.

"This issue can be dealt with the creation of a voluntary or mandatory industry code of conduct."

Such codes are enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and have proved to be a success in other sectors, he said.

The code of conduct is similar to RSRT in some respects with one "very important" difference – the code is developed by the industry and proposed to the government and not the other way around as it happened with RSRT.

The ALRTA has narrowed down the scope of the code to deal with four priority issues initially:

  • Payment time frames
  • Withholding of payment
  • Releases from liability
  • Dispute resolution

"Those four things if they were in the code would really take the heat out of the fairness side of the RSRT debate."

Munro reminded the delegates that if these provisions did exist in an industry code of conduct, there would be no need for the RSRT to be set up again.

While there is a "general agreement" to these provisions within the ALRTA and an ATA working group, the livestock body plans to discuss it in detail with politicians and the industry submitting a proposal to the government.

The ALRTA is currently inviting industry feedback to these provisions.

Changes to CoR and safety

Petroccitto discussed NHVR’s safety programs and the role the regulator can play in the safety agenda, particularly in the post-RSRT phase.

"We remained and will continue to remain silent on what happened with the RSRT because it was not our position or my role to comment on it," Petroccitto said.

However, he noted that the funds that will be redirected from the RSRT to the NHVR will help expedite many safety programs that will benefit the entire industry.

Petroccitto said a portion of this extra fund will go towards NHVR’s chain of responsibilities (CoR) efforts, particularly in expediting the broader awareness and education program along the supply chain industry.

"The critical issue here for us the supply chain – not the driver, not the person at the end of the chain but every person within the supply chain and making them aware of all of their obligations."

He said there is plan in place to deliver this result and while he has faced industry scepticism regarding the outcome of the plan, the regulator is certain that it is achievable.

NHVR has released its first set of industry guidelines aimed at providing a framework to develop an industry code of conduct.

Petroccitto said the code will consolidate and streamline the existing guidelines and requirements into a single tool that will ultimately benefit "every member of the supply chain".

Having delivered first phase of the livestock template, the NHVR is ready to launch the second phase on Monday, August 15.

Petroccitto said the template allows livestock operators to know exactly what they need to do to remain compliant.

He also outlined the improvements brought about as a result of NHVR’s new customer portal and its journey planner tool.

While the regulator has copped criticism for its heat maps, Petroccitto said the maps have been helping senior executives and bureaucrats to better understand the issues in the road network and identify focal points.

With more programs to be launched in the next twelve months, Petroccitto said NHVR is committed to delivering results promised in its 10-year corporate plan.

"In the coming weeks we will release our five-year directions strategy, which will highlight bringing our strategic agenda into reality."

Contract fairness                                       

Watson outlined ATA’s contract checklist, which summarises important issues and legal considerations for all transport operators in Australia.

Developed by Brisbane law firm Cooper Grace Ward, the checklist highlights general considerations for businesses including:

  • Legislative considerations, including chain of responsibility provisions
  • The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) unfair contract provisions
  • Pricing and payment terms
  • Consequential loss
  • Force majeure.

Watson reminded the delegates that while the checklist is a comprehensive document (23 pages), it is not a legal document and operators would have to seek legal counsel when unsure.

Watson also noted ATA’s efforts to improve fairness in contracts and its push for an industry code of conduct that deals with payment term issues and related issues for small trucking businesses.

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