Opinion: spotlight on an unwise digital divide

By: Warren Clark

On-demand work – when online platforms should be regulated

Opinion: spotlight on an unwise digital divide
Warren Clark


In a recent National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) submission to the Victorian Inquiry into the On-Demand Workforce, the best way to regulate digital platforms was explored.

The novelty of digital technology is the capacity for technology to facilitate the matching of available workers with those who are seeking services and the emergence of technology-driven businesses existing solely for this purpose.

The road freight industry has been affected by this development. Members have informed NatRoad that there are a large number of digital platforms that "match" freight tasks with transport companies. 

They essentially offer a limited form of freight forwarding, often without assuming any of the liabilities which accompany the traditional manner in which freight forwarding tasks occur.

A freight forwarder would rarely be in the business of moving goods itself. 

Instead, the freight forwarding company acts as an intermediary/paid agent between a shipper and the providers of various transportation services such as ocean shipping on cargo ships, trucking, expedited shipping by air freight, and moving goods by rail.

In contrast, members have indicated to NatRoad that most online platforms pass the onus of compliance onto the transport provider and have terms and conditions of use which preclude any agency relationship or other formal connection with either party to the transactions which they facilitate. 

Members have indicated that compliance is therefore given a low priority when dealing through digital platforms.

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All digital platforms, however, do not appear to operate in a similar way.  One digital platform informed NatRoad that it considers itself to be "just like any type of business engaging a form of marketing (online, print, media etc) with the aim of generating leads/business." 

The platform considered itself to equate to "a marketing service for carriers, payable by a monthly fee for service" or "a search engine for transport."  The company indicated that it did not see itself as "a participant in transport transactions."

Following the money provides the answer about which platforms should be regulated. NatRoad considers that if an entity that might otherwise be classified as a freight forwarder is paid a fixed fee unrelated to the size, weight or destination of the consignment, and does nothing more than provide a platform which introduces senders/receivers to carriers, they would exercise little influence or control over the execution of the freight task.

As such, they would have no influence over the compliance or otherwise of the movement of the relevant freight and might reasonably claim that Chain of Responsibility (CoR) obligations as set out in the Heavy Vehicle National Law, would not apply in the context of that type of transaction. However, if the digital platform issues invoices associated with the freight task, and therefore has control over the execution of the task, then they would have CoR obligations.

In short, where the digital platform has influence or control over the freight task, this factor should be the trigger for the imposition of Chain of Responsibility duties. 

The law should be changed to catch all parties in the chain who have influence or control over transport activities. 

Warren Clark is CEO of NatRoad


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