Familiar divide marks Senate report initial responses

By: Rob McKay

TWU highlights foreign worker exploitation as NatRoad pummels safe rates aspect

Familiar divide marks Senate report initial responses
Safe rates continues to be a controversial theme in transport reform


The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has backed a Senate inquiry’s findings and recommendations highlighting the exploitation of overseas workers in the transport industry.

The union chose not to address the safe rates-related recommendation at this stage but sparring partner the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) picked up that baton instead.


The Aspects of Road Safety in Australia inquiry’s final report raises "serious concerns about the safety of the Australian travelling public" after it investigated loopholes in the visa system and fraud in training schools", the TWU states.

"This report is a damning indictment of the Federal Government’s lack of regulation and oversight in this area," TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon says.

"It is clear how broken the system is when people can be exploited, have their lives put in danger and then kicked out of the country with no accountability among those making profits at their expense. It is clear from these findings that there are risks for overseas drivers working in the transport supply chain and that they protections and rights."

The TWU has called for overseas workers to be given access to education and health services and to have access to union representatives on entering the country so their rights and protections can be explained.

Industry-wide training overseen by industry, unions and academics should also be carried out under the auspices of a national auditing, education and industrial rights to ensure skills for drivers.

"Exploitation of overseas workers is an insidious aspect of the race to the bottom in the trucking industry. At a time when wage growth is at its lowest, this exploitation is forcing rates down. For all workers this is creating difficulties but in an industry as dangerous as trucking, it is compromising safety," Sheldon says.

The Senate inquiry has been investigating the events which led to two inexperienced drivers holding up traffic for several hours on the M5 motorway in Sydney last year because they were unable to reverse their truck 

"It is outrageous that the driver got treated in this way while the training companies engaging in dodgy licences are still operating and the transport companies and clients involved have not been held to account," Sheldon says.

The report also looked into the Federal Government issuing labour agreements for transport companies wanting to bring in overseas workers on 457 visas.

At an appearance before the committee, Sheldon addressed a labour agreement awarded to operator Northline, which has since requested two more agreements, to bring in fork-lift drivers, which requires two days training.

"Truck drivers and the travelling public are paying the ultimate price for the race to the bottom in trucking which is occurring because of client demand for lower costs," he says.

"What we need are good quality jobs which involve training and skill. It is no one’s interest to see jobs in this industry marked by low rates and exploitation,"


For NatRoad, the findings related to a national standards body that would include safe rates powers were "a cause for concern".

"Although government senators Barry O'Sullivan and Slade Brockman sensibly mentioned resurrecting the RSRT was not on their agenda, the committee recommendation on this subject is disappointing," NatRoad CEO Warren Clark says.

"Calling for the Government to establish an industry body to enforce safe rates is the woeful RSRT all over again

"The RSRT created chaos and confusion in the road transport industry. The idea that mandating rates of pay automatically improves safety on the road or provides a solution for the industry’s concerns contradicts the independent reports that have investigated the issue. These reports have been ignored by the committee."

He notes that in March the Productivity Commission "debunked the myth that RSRT [Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal] is a magic pudding for the industry".

"The Productivity Commission found that there were several flaws in the process of establishing the Road Safety Remuneration system, including the lack of evidence connecting the regulation of remuneration with improvements in safety outcomes," Clark says.

"The findings in relation to ‘Safe Rates’ are clearly based on submissions and evidence provided by the TWU.

"There’s no hiding the fact the TWU is obsessed with the re-introduction of the RSRT which was abolished 18 months ago.

" It’s time to move on and let the forty thousand trucking businesses around Australia run their own race, just like they’ve done for decades before" he said.

"Plain and simple, RSRT is not a viable solution for the industry. We are disappointed the Senate Committee contemplates that fixing rates can contribute to safety on the road."


NatRoads’s reservations appear well-placed given previous comments from Labor’s infrastructure and transport spokesman, Anthony Albanese.

While Albanese himself is on parliamentary business in India at present, his office points to positive RSRT comments he has made this year, though was unable to confirm what position the party would take to the election.

"In Australia in 2017, we should not tolerate a situation where unchecked market forces compromise public safety," he says in a March opinion piece in which he insists the "creation of the tribunal was a road safety measure".

"This is why it is almost incomprehensible that the Turnbull Government abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal last year with no alternative road safety strategy in place."

Albanese picked up the theme again last month, in another attack on the government.

"While the Government played politics on scrapping the RSRT ahead of last year’s Federal election, it has failed to outline any alternative policy to maintain safety on our interstate highways for truck drivers and other motorists," he says.


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