SARTA and TWU take up safe rates cudgels again

Shearer hits back after union releases email to back its RSRT point

SARTA and TWU take up safe rates cudgels again
Safe rates is still a live issue: Steve Shearer in the midst of a TWU protest last year in Adelaide


‘Safe rates’ continues to be a burr under the saddle of Transport Workers Union/industry body relations, even though safety discussions do take place between the sides.

The latest friction involves a 2014 email from South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) executive officer Steve Shearer to the TWU and released by its South Australia/Northern Territory branch.

Dated September 25, the SARTA email released reads:

"I refer to yesterday’s discussions between me and the TWU re safety and to the summary doc prepared by Polo and run past me prior to the TWU meeting with Ministers yesterday.

"As I foreshadowed, the SARTA Board discussed this in detail last night.

"The Board agreed:

To the dot points under the first three headings (SE Freeway, Chain of Responsibility and Safety rating system).

"The Board did not agree with the thrust of the points under the Fourth heading (Safe Rates) and made the following comments:

‘SARTA agrees that inadequate rates if accepted by an operator can lead to safety issues due to corner cutting in various ways.

‘SARTA remains of the view that the greatest challenge for and flaw in the Safe Rates concept is the inevitable inadequacy of enforcement, which will lead to good operators complying and being unfairly competed with by cheats who don’t comply and who pay or accept lower rates.

‘SARTA does not believe that the RSRT current concept is capable of resolving this problem because the setting of effective rates is problematic in that they would have to accommodate all the legitimate and safe operations and options (including the genuine and responsible competitive edge that many operators have in certain circumstances – thus any set rate would have to allow such rates and not be set at a higher rate that precludes safe productivity).

‘Further, after discussing this at length yet again the SARTA Board agreed that the concept of setting a dollar figure rate or set of rates will inevitably fail and produce counter-productive outcomes. The Board discussed as an alternative options for enabling and empowering authorities to pursue the issue of whether or not a given rate being paid is, in the overall scheme of things for the entities involved, a rate which ensures that safety is not prejudiced as a direct result of the rates.

‘SARTA considers that a concept along the lines of Chain of Responsibility with a Reverse Onus on the parties to defend a reasonably based allegation is likely to be far more effective.

‘Accordingly SARTA does not endorse the final two dot points under Safe Rates nor the implied concept of setting dollar figure rates per se.

‘SARTA is however keen to explore any realistic options but they must NOT establish yet another competitive differential between compliant operators and cheaters and they must be ACTUALLY and effectively enforced. 

‘I would be quite happy to discuss this all further and look forward to the meeting with other stakeholders in mid October.’ "

Its release follows SARTA questioning of federal spending priorities, with cash freed up from the demise of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) seen as  less-focused on road safety than it could be.

The union cast the email as highlighting a disconnect between SARTA’s stated concerns and opposition to the RSRT.

"What we need is for the government to fund an independent body which can investigate these pressures and hold these wealthy clients to account for the pressure in transport that is killing people," TWU SA/NT branch secretary Ian Smith says.

"We concur with SARTA that the government is frittering away money on plans which will not deliver good safety outcomes.

"The TWU is used to SARTA doing U-turns after its executive officer Steve Shearer previously supported the premise behind Safe Rates but then campaigned against it.

"I would appeal to SARTA to come fully onboard with the campaign to make trucking safer and for accountability at the top of the industry.

"Its members will benefit when wealthy clients are forced to pay their fair share and when transport is made safer."

Shearer responds in typically blunt terms.

"The TWU has become a sad laughing stock, with its fake news and alternative facts as it clings desperately to fatally flawed and failed concept of so-called and misnamed 'Safe' Rates," he says. 

"Even Donald Trump has a closer affinity to the facts and the truth. 

"It’s tragic that in this pathetic attempt to have a go at SARTA and to flog their dead safe rates donkey even harder they actually invite readers, including the journalists to whom they have sent their Media Release who actually can and will read it, to look at my email to the TWU in 2014 as proof that we agreed to Safe Rates. 

"Well I hope people do go and read that email because the selective quote the TWU has made is sandwiched between paragraphs that very clearly state that we do NOT support Safe Rates ... and we never have, for the reasons set out in that email."

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