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Safe rates gets added impetus as carbon tax looms

TWU keeps government in its sights over carbon tax and says the scheme must be accompanied by safe rates

By Brad Gardner | July 8, 2011

Transport Workers Union (TWU) boss Tony Sheldon is keeping the Federal Government in his sights over the carbon tax, accusing of it walking away from Labor values.

As Prime Minister Julia Gillard prepares to unveil the carbon tax package on July 10, Sheldon is maintaining the pressure on her to implement safe rates to protect drivers from any cost increases.

The government has ruled out slugging small businesses using light commercial vehicles with higher fuel prices, stoking fear in the trucking industry that it will be targeted through a reduction in the fuel tax credit.

Sheldon claims truck drivers face cost increases of $150 to $200 a week. He wrote to TWU members yesterday saying owner-drivers and employee drivers must be protected, adding that: “This [is] why we need Safe Rates.”

“You don’t punish people already on the edge – it’s not the Labor way. And Governments of yesterday would not have put the welfare of cattle higher on the agenda than that of truck drivers,” Sheldon has written to TWU members.

The union has long been campaigning for sweeping changes to remuneration methods, which have stalled since the government released a discussion paper on possible policy options in November last year.

Sheldon has called on union members to write to Gillard telling her to implement safe rates. The government has continually insisted it is dedicated to the issue, but there has been no date as to when action will be taken.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) called for governments back in 2008 to intervene in the marketplace, arguing incentive-based payments and pressure from the supply chain forced drivers to commit unsafe practices.

Sheldon fears drivers will be forced to work harder, faster and longer to make a living if they are not given assistance when a carbon tax begins on July 1 next year.

“It’s not nameless faces who are dying on our roads, it’s our friends and family members who are being forced to work under these conditions to make ends meet,” he says.

“Safe Rates means drivers and transport companies get properly compensated for the price of fuel.”

The government has repeatedly refused to answer questions on how a carbon tax will apply to the trucking industry, with ministers instead telling people to wait until July 10 to find out.

Former TWU officials and now federal Labor senators, Glenn Sterle and Alex Gallacher, have backed the union’s campaign.

South Australian Liberal MLC David Ridgway this week sought a similar assurance from the state’s Industrial Relations Minister Russell Wortley, who also came from the union.

He also asked Wortley if he agreed with Sheldon when the union heavyweight claimed drivers would be put under economic pressure if they had to wear the burden of cost increases from the tax.

Wortley told Parliament he backed Gillard and the introduction of a carbon tax, at which point Ridgway yelled across the chamber: “They’ll kick you out.”

“No, they value me very much as a member,” Wortley says of the TWU.

While not giving details, he says Gillard will announce “a very generous compensation package” for those in need.

Wortley also stopped short of offering full support for Sterle and Sheldon’s comments, saying: “the senator and the federal secretary who made that statement have one point of view and a position and it may have merit or it may not.”

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