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TWU tries to put skids on Hanson’s owner-driver plans

Union sets sight on Hanson in a move that has the potential to derail the building supplier's plans for owner-drivers

By Brad Gardner | August 30, 2012

The Queensland Transport Workers Union (TWU) is threatening to derail efforts by Hanson Construction Materials to lock in changes to cartage rates and waiting times for owner-drivers.

Fresh from its victory over CEVA Logistics, the union is now asking the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to allow Queensland owner-drivers hauling concrete for Hanson to bargain collectively on wages and conditions for five years.

Hanson introduced a new agreement for owner-drivers on August 1 that changes the structure of cartage rates and when payment is made for waiting time.

But not all sub-contractors have signed it, with the TWU claiming the document is unfair and that owner-drivers have complained of being unable to negotiate with Hanson on terms and conditions. It also believes Hanson will use the Queensland agreement as the foundation for a national contract.

“This application came about because Hanson management tried to put out what our members believe to be an unfair contract,” Queensland TWU Secretary Peter Biagini says.

If approved, the application will allow owner-drivers to form a bargaining group to negotiate wages, penalty rates, payments for specialist loads and compensation for waiting time.

The TWU, which will provide administrative support to the bargaining group, also wants negotiations to canvass a mechanism for rates to rise annually and for the cost of painting and badging prime movers to be covered.

A statement provided by Hanson says it believes the new agreement “is fair and reasonable” and that most owner-drivers will be better off under the new arrangement.

“Hanson consulted drivers and changes were made to the document as a result,” the statement says.

Hanson declined a request to provide further information about the terms of the agreement. In its application to the ACCC, the TWU says the new agreement pays owner-drivers by the load, irrespective of its size. The previous agreement paid drivers based on distance travelled and the size of the load.

The new agreement also extends the amount of time an owner-driver must wait in a queue before being compensated. Previously, a company had to pay $2.10 per minute if an owner-driver was stuck at a delivery site for more than 30 minutes. Most of that money went to Hanson, with the subbie receiving 97 cents.

The union’s application says the time for when compensation must be paid has been stretched out to 45 minutes. Union official Graham Garrett says he hopes an ACCC ruling in the TWU’s favour will force Hanson to amend its agreement. He says TWU members are prepared to sign “a fair contract”.

A letter from Biagini to Hanson logistics manager Shane Blank on May 28 accuses him of visiting sites and indicating to owner-drivers the terms and conditions of the new agreement were non-negotiable.

Blank did not refute the allegation in his written response but did ask the TWU to provide the names of its members who wanted the union to bargain on their behalf.

The TWU’s application says it has 113 owner-driver members working for Hanson, which uses about 160 sub-contractors throughout Queensland.

Similar to the application covering those working for CEVA Logistics, Hanson’s owner-drivers will have the choice to join the bargaining group and accept or reject offers stemming from negotiations.

“These negotiations don’t have to be painful or protracted. The CEVA application illustrates that,” Biagini says.

“And just as we are confident there will be a mutually beneficial outcome in the CEVA negotiations, we have every reason to hope that a good deal can be secured for Hanson drivers and the company alike.”

Biagini says the CEVA and Hanson applications, wins against the likes of Toll, StarTrack and Cement Australia and the introduction of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal demonstrate the scales are tipping in favour of truck drivers.

“It is getting harder and harder for anti-union industry groups – the tinfoil-hat loony brigade – to sh*tcan union drivers,” he says.

“Union drivers got safe rates legislated and they’ll stay union and spread the message because even once the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal has done the determinations, owner-drivers won’t have the time or money to apply for orders.

“The last four decades haven’t been kind to Australia’s labour movement, but we’re seeing the opposite trend for owner-drivers. It’s funny how the wheel of history turns.”

The TWU’s application also touches on the conditions owner-drivers in the concrete cartage sector toil under. It says companies offer work on a take-it-or-leave-it basis and demand exclusive service.

Furthermore, the application says companies require owner-drivers to adorn their rigs with company colours or logos.

“These practices are a mechanism by which suppliers, including Hanson, retain exclusive contracts for services among owner drivers. These practices operate to limit owner drivers’ ability to enter into a contract and to terminate the contract,” the application reads.

“In addition, there is substantial risk associated with changing suppliers. Prime movers are capital intensive, and any period of time in which they are not put to productive use generates financial risk to the owner. For that reason, owner drivers are reluctant to move from one contract to another, particularly in light of the downtime associated with removing the supplier’s agitator and repainting colours.”

The application says a prime mover, depending on type and age, can cost from $135,000 to $210,000. An agitator ranges from $42,000 to $49,000.

It claims existing practices, along with the high number of owner-drivers in the marketplace, have led to a substantial imbalance in bargaining power toward the likes of Hanson.

It says allowing Hanson’s owner-drivers to collectively bargain will restore balance, lead to savings due the creation of a single bargaining process and ensure appropriate minimum standards for subbies.

“…The imbalance in negotiating power is contrary to the public interest in that it depresses remuneration and conditions in the sector…redressing the imbalance promotes the public interest by streamlining negotiations…and by ensuring an appropriate balance between the interests of Hanson and the interests of owner drivers,” the application says.

“If all affected owner drivers seek to negotiate new contractual terms with Hanson there will be necessary duplication of time and resources. This undoubtedly leads to transactional cost increases when compared to the costs associated with collective bargaining.”

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