Commission legally correct, but law not fair: SARTA

By: Anjali Behl

Shearer says IR Commission must consider the scale of membership to determine whether an organisation has the right to be heard

Commission legally correct, but law not fair: SARTA
SARTA executive director Steve Shearer calls for a change in the industrial relations legal guidelines.


The South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) has taken aim at the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC’s) recent ruling stating that while the commissioner is "legally correct", the "law is wrong".

The statement is in reference to IRC’s decision to dismiss National Road Transport Association (NatRoad’s) application seeking exemption for its members from the changes to the NSW General Carriers Contract Determination (GCCD).

In his ruling, Commissioner John Murphy had stated that an "unregistered organisation" such as NatRoad did not have the "standing" to make such an application under the Industrial Relations 1991 Act.

SARTA executive director Steve Shearer tells ATN that just because an organisation is registered does not mean it is at large representative of the entire industry conversely, an unregistered organisation such as NatRoad is a better representative of the industry because of the sheer number of its members, which comprise small operators and owner-drivers.

Comparing the Australian Road Transport Industry Organisation (ARTIO), which has consistently opposed NatRoad GCCD exemption application, to NatRoad, Shearer says the former represents only a small portion of the industry compared to the latter.

"The Commissioner's decision, whilst technically legally correct, really shows up the farce of ARTIO though," he says.

"After all who or what is ARTIO and who comprises its membership?

"Sure ARTIO is a registered organisation in the Commission but so what?

"The ARTIO membership couldn't hold a candle to the NatRoad membership which is far larger and far more representative than ARTIO has ever been."

The Commission had stated that: "On the basis that the terms ‘association of employing contractors’, ‘association of contract drivers’ and ‘association of contract carriers’ in the IR Act refer only to such associations as are registered, it follows that unregistered associations do not have access to the following provisions of the IR Act:

- Section 322 – Agreements concerning contract conditions.
- Section 332 – Compulsory conference with respect to disputes.
- Part 7 of Chapter 6 – Compensation for termination of certain contracts of carriage.
- Section 187 – Appeals to Full Bench from decision of Commission.
- Part 1 of Chapter 5 – Principles of association.
- Part 7 of Chapter 5 – Entry and inspection by officers of industrial organisations.
- Chapter 7 – Enforcement."       

Shearer says, based on the Commissioner’s statement, it is worth considering just how many employing contractors, contract drivers and contract carriers does ARTIO and NatRoad have among their members.

"There is no doubt that NatRoad and all of the other industry associations have far more of these types of members and what’s more they are far more representative and consultative that ARTIO."

Shearer concedes that while the Commissioner is right under the law, the law itself is "farcical and inequitable in this case" adding "registration of an organisation like ARTIO does not make it representative, far from it".

He criticises both the ARTIO and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) for not caring about the concerns of industry members "except their small, and evidently overstated, membership".

SARTA recommends an overhaul of the industrial relations legal guidelines to help organisation such as NatRoad get the right to be heard by the Commission.

"The Industrial Relations Commission cannot close its mind and its doors to the concerns of owner-drivers."

"So the law needs to be changed, to overcome this closed-shop approach to IR.

"IR, which by the way applies to every operator and yet it is developed through deals between the TWU and ARTIO, would be lucky to represent a tenth of the number of NatRoad's membership, let alone the rest of us."

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