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NSW award rates slashed on balance; ‘drivers worse off’

NSW employers to enjoy lower wage bills from next year, but TWU says drivers will be worse off

By Brad Gardner | September 8, 2009

Trucking employers in New South Wales will enjoy lower wage bills starting next year, but the union says drivers will be significantly worse off.

Wages in higher-paying NSW-based awards will be cut annually for five years in a ruling by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, which consolidates some 120 transport pay awards into just three.

The differential between awards like the Transport Industry (State) Award will be reduced 20 percent each year in five installments from July 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014

The higher allowances, casual loading and penalty rates in the NSW-based awards will also be cut by the same amount under the transitional arrangements, part of the Rudd Government’s post-WorkChoices award modernisation process.

NSW drivers have enjoyed higher pay rates for years and the Commission says the annual 20 percent reduction will result in a nationally consistent rate.

The adjustment will also apply to the Road Transport and Distribution Award 2010, with the Commission declining to extend it to the Road Transport (Long Distance Operations) Award 2010 and the Transport (Cash in Transit) Award 2010.

The Transport Workers Union tried to have NSW provisions extended nationwide, claiming the proposed awards would have a negative effect on pay, annual leave, overtime and redundancy

“The pay rates and conditions in the draft awards will cause significant disadvantage to employees to be covered by the awards who are located in NSW,” the union said in its submission.

But employer group the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) claimed NSW rates were around 10 to 15 percent higher than other jurisdictions.

In reaching a decision, the AIRC said it had a “major concern” about the Road Transport and Distribution Award 2010 because of “the significance of the higher rates” in some NSW transport awards.

The Commission settled on five instalments of 20 percent based on the submissions it received from parties which supported a phase-in period.

“We have also decided to provide for 12 months between instalments. This will spread the impact of changes over almost the whole of the five-year period,” the AIRC ruled.

The decision to impose a transition period was also due to submissions the AIRC received over the effect raising wages would have during the global economic downturn.

“On the material presented to us concerning the national and international economy it is clear that we should take a cautious approach where cost increases are in prospect,” the Commission ruled.

“We have decided that any cost increases resulting from the introduction of modern awards should be spread over a lengthy period…”

In its submission ARTIO called for NSW rates to be effectively frozen to allow other states to catch up.

“ARTIO would prefer a simple method, whereby a NSW allowance, decreasing annually, is adopted until the modern award rate matches that currently payable under the NSW Award,” the representative group wrote.

Although the AIRC was tasked with ensuring business costs did not blow out due to the changes, the union also reminded the Commission no employees were to be left worse off under the modernisation process.

It argued credence must be given “to NSW award rates and the effect on NSW workers if those rates are not incorporated in some way into the modern award”.

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