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Safe Rates resurrection confirmation to industry

ALP’s Sterle and TWU’s Kaine hold pre-election line on reform but seek cooperation


Senator Glen Sterle wants industry input to the new version of and new approach to Safe Rates, to go ahead if the Australian Labor Party is elected next year.

The federal opposition’s shadow assistant minister for road safety admits the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) was experience was a disaster but believes the goal of a “sustainable” payments regime remains crucial for trucking’s future and will be progressed under a Labor federal government.

How this will happen is yet to be thrashed out but a “legislated minimum payment” will be central to it.

“It will be far more focused than telling people what they can charge,” Sterle tells ATN.

“There is a lot of work to do.

“I have said very clearly in my conversations with transport organisations: ‘I want to work with you hand in hand’.

“I want them to be part of the solution, I want them to be part of whatever we do.

“They are the experts in their own fields, they will all bring different angle, something I might not have seen.”

Sterle says such assistance is needed to gain the best outcome for industry operators dealing with negative pressure and to avoid unintended consequences.

This was put to an Australian Trucking Association (ATA) Council-organised meeting also involving ATA chair Geoff Crouch, ATA vice chair David Smith, Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA) vice president John Beer, ATA Industry Technical Committee chair Kel Baxter, ALRTA executive director Mathew Munro and Transport Workers Union (TWU) national secretary Michael Kaine, amongst others.

“At the end of the day, the squeeze comes from the top down, and they are all getting squeezed,” Sterle says.

“I also said very clearly to them that, when I came into the industry, the profit margins used to have two digits in them.”

Read about the ALP’s most recent comments supporting Safe Rates, here

Sterle was also at pains to say the effort was not aimed at making things hard for SME trucking companies, many of which are family-owned.

“I am not against the transport operators, let me make that very clear,” he says.

“The majority are decent hard-working people who have put everything on the line to get to where they are.

“We just need to make it a sustainable industry.”

According to ALRTA’s account of the meeting, he emphasised the ‘Safe Rates’ legislation would be introduced quickly “if the numbers looked favourable in the Senate.  This would be intended to create a new body within Fair Work Australia to set rates or impose other rules.”

Kaine “outlined a vision for the new body to set rates and consider other matters such as payment terms, contract conditions or work hours.

“The TWU’s stated aim is to address disparities in market power at the top of the supply chain.

“Importantly, both Senator Sterle and Mr Kaine acknowledged the fundamental failings of the former RSRT and invited industry to be part of consultations both to set up the new body and to consider applications for new rulings.

“The open discussion that followed was thorough and robust.

“While ALRTA remains vehemently opposed to mandatory minimum rates for owner drivers, it is nonetheless important for associations, unions and politicians to keep an open communication channel in the lead up to the 2019 Federal Election.”

For its part, the TWU is sticking to its guns, while also acknowledging that the RSRT’s performance was not what it had hoped it would be once up and running.

“I welcomed the chance to talk to the ATA council to explain the idea behind Safe Rates and the push by drivers and the TWU for fundamental reform in the transport industry,” national secretary Michael Kaine tells ATN.

“I raised how the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal had all of the powers that were necessary to make major improvements in our industry but how the minimum safe rates order was being poorly implemented.

“The real failing was how the organisations which opposed the tribunal, including the ALRTA, NatRoad, the ATA chose to run scare campaigns against the tribunal and let ideology get in the way of delivering for their own members.

“The members represented by the organisations on the ATA council would by now have guaranteed 30-day payments, as part of a TWU application to the tribunal, were it not for the ill-judged opposition of some of these groups to the tribunal.

“Transport operators would also be closer to working in a fairer, safer and more sustainable industry now were it not for the shutting down of the tribunal.

“These groups missed the chance we had of holding clients to account for the tight margins that force transport operators to subsist instead of thrive.

“It is disappointing to read that the ALRTA remains opposed to minimum safe rates for owner drivers and holding clients to account for them. This effectively means that the organisation remains opposed to fairness, safety and sustainability for owner drivers.

“We do welcome open dialogue with industry bodies on the future of our industry. But we will not find common ground if groups continue to refuse to back meaningful reforms to the problems drivers and transport operators face – from chronic fatigue, long working hours, high rates of deaths and injuries, poor maintenance on fleets.

“We want enforceable rates, supply chain accountability and guarantees that transport operators will be allowed to run safe sustainable businesses. Nothing will distract us from this goal.

“We are working with other industry bodies which share our vision for making our industry safer and fairer. We remain open at any stage for others to come on board.”


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