Trucking industry lays out the facts on drivers for ATO

By: Rob McKay


Major representative bodies explain work experience that underpin travel claims

Trucking industry lays out the facts on drivers for ATO
Bill McKinley says the trucking industry was in full agreement on what the ATO needs to do

 

The trucking industry presented a united front to Australian Taxation Office (ATO) officials to explain the realities of long-haul drivers’ work.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA), National Road Transport Association (NatRoad), Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) and Transport Workers Union (TWU) attended a meeting to work through the driver travel claims issue.

They were "in full agreement" in advising the ATO on what its next steps needed to be, ATA chief of staff Bill McKinley tells in full agreement ATN.

"We told the tax office officials the ATO should revert to the 2016-17 ‘reasonable amount’ – $97.40 – plus a small increment for CPI, and that it should then go ahead with effective consultation if it wanted to change the amounts again," McKinley says of the free claims limit that has been reduced to $55.30.

"The ATA tabled a detailed briefing paper which included typical costs for truck drivers purchasing meals at a range of road houses across Australia, the fatigue management advice that drivers receive about how to eat healthily and well, and a sample national driver work diary page.

"We made the point to the tax office that truck drivers in the eastern states and South Australia record their work and rest hours in 15 minute increments.

"They already have to deal with a lot of paper-work that shows exactly where they stop and how long they stop for and this existing paper work – and it’s an offence not to fill it in correctly – should be taken into account in any requirement the tax office imposes."

ATO listened

McKinley emphasises that the ATO was professional at the meeting and receptive to the advice given.

"The tax office staff at the meeting listened carefully to our views, asked sensible questions and are taking the answers away and are considering them seriously," he says.

"It was a productive meeting where industry got to present its views to an audience that listened carefully and will consider them."

NatRoad preferred to wait on the ATO’s position to emerge on Monday before making detailed comment.

"NatRoad met with the ATO in Sydney yesterday regarding the change to reasonable travel allowances for truck drivers," a spokesperson says.

"NatRoad was in attendance along with other employer associations and the TWU.

"There was a robust exchange of views for close to two hours, with all parties united in asking the ATO to change their determination," a spokesperson says.

"On Monday 21 August, the ATO will come back with timelines for further consultation and advice about how they plan to address the problem."

ARTIO Queensland branch secretary and QTA CEO Gary Mahon attended along with Paul Ryan, ARTIO’s national industrial advisor.

"Extensive discussions were held with ATO officials who gave the industry bodies a fair hearing," Mahon says.

"QTA along with ARTIO, ATA, NatRoad and the TWU presented a united stand on the issue of the reduction in travel expenses."  

Little knowledge

For the TWU the meeting was an eye-opener on the extent of ATO insight into the industry.

"It was clear from this meeting that there is a lack of understanding in the Tax Office about working patterns for long distance truck drivers, including the frequency of travel and the hours of work," a union spokesperson tells ATN.

"Unfortunately, this lack of understanding has led to drastic tax changes for drivers which will only pile pressure on to what is already high-pressured job.

"Truck drivers work long days, they can be away from home for six days a week and they are compelled to eat and spend their rest time at expensive truck stops.

"It is imperative for safety on our roads that truck drivers take their meal breaks and rest time.

"Taking unilateral decisions without consulting truck drivers and their union representatives only leads to poor outcomes in trucking: stressed drivers with extra financial worries."

The TWU points out that in the 2014-2015 tax year, 678 companies with revenues exceeding $100 million paid no tax at all.

"Serious questions must therefore be raised as to why the ATO has chosen to pursue hard-working truck drivers in the ill-thought out manner in which they have done," the spokesperson adds.

"We look forward to a response from the ATO on our initial meeting but our desired outcome remains the same: a full reversal of the recent determination."

Troubling approach

The industry is generally keen to get a proper and fair result from the ATO, now that consultation is actually happening, rather than rake over the troubled path up to the July decision.

While the ATO now refuses to engage with the media on the issue, ATN understands the impetus for the claims changes was just two Administrative Appeals Tribunal cases that highlighted and led to a misapprehension of long-haul truck driving conditions.

Sources with an understanding of the issues say the tax officials at the meeting displayed little knowledge about the industry and the work such drivers do.

Though the meeting was focused on the future and flaws in the ATO’s approach were not examined, it is also understood the failed industry consultation effort was undertaken by the ATO’s public relations arm, rather than specialists that work regularly with industry.

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