The fix is in: Feds told to mandate trucking rates

By: Jason Whittaker

The Federal Government will face intense pressure to legislate trucking rates, while the industry itself stands condemned for ignoring what

The Federal Government will face intense pressure to legislate trucking rates, while the industry itself stands condemned for ignoring what a major report has called the "overwhelming" link between pay and road safety.

The report into safety and pay rates in the trucking industry, authored by Professor Michael Quinlan and Lance Wright QC for the National Transport Commission (NTC), has strongly recommended the most radical shake-up in the commercial trucking market in decades, in a major rebuff to employer groups.

The Remuneration and Safety in the Australian Heavy Vehicle Industry report, which widely consulted stakeholders including the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and employer groups, is clear in its findings: there is an indisputable link between safety and payment systems and only a regulated marketplace can correct the commercial imbalance between smaller operators and prime contractors.

And the authors have attacked employers who "continue to deny there is a connection" between safety and pay rates while providing "little if any research or credible evidence to discount or provide alternative explanations to research indicating that such a connection exists".

They call for a new specialised body under federal transport legislation with "wide powers" to fix rates of remuneration for both employed drivers and owner-drivers.

"This is the only viable and direct mechanism for addressing the imbalance in bargaining power confronting owner-drivers that affects safety in the road freight industry," the report states.

A new tribunal made up of industry, industrial relations and safety experts will then decide industry rates by sector and enforce misconduct, including under existing chain of responsibility laws.

The report dismisses two other options, including legislative deeming of owner-drivers and employees to regulate under an industrial tribunal, and the union’s idea of referring powers to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to determine conditions for both employees and owner-drivers.

"[Setting up a new body] represents a solution that balances the respective interests of the industry stakeholders and pays due regard to the public interest considerations involved in achieving a safer road transport industry," Quinlan and Wright argue.

"We conclude that a clear case has been demonstrated for a form of regulation to be established in the context of the chain of responsibility to ensure that rates of pay and other elements of remuneration in the long haul transport industry may be determined to provide for safe rates, conditions and remuneration."

That regulation must be "dynamic", they argue, to speedily deal with changes in the industry and fix rates across a variety of different industry sectors.

The report also picks up on recommendations from some groups for ‘plan English’ contracts to be mandated, "even to the point of developing proformas". It recommends a legislative provision to enforce this.

Under its plan, every heavy vehicle, along with transport companies and customers, would have to carry information on pay rates for the current trip/s showing compliance with the relevant safe rate.

Penalties will be applied to customers who fail to pay the minimum rate within a specified period of no more than two weeks, with escalating penalties for repeat offenders.

"Enforcement measures to ensure compliance with safe rates for both employee and owner-drivers needs to be adequately resourced, proactive (not simply complaint-driven) and strategic," the report says.

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