NTC 'steps over line' with safe rates recommendation

NTC accused of meddling in industrial relations after it advocated the adoption of a ‘safe rates’ scheme

NTC 'steps over line' with safe rates recommendation
NTC 'steps over line' with safe rates recommendation
By Brad Gardner

The National Transport Commission (NTC) has been accused of meddling in industrial relations after it advocated the adoption of a ‘safe rates’ scheme.

At least one industry group is fuming at what it claims is evidence of the NTC pre-empting a government decision on whether to overhaul pay methods in the trucking industry.

Although the NTC has denied the allegations, Steve Shearer from the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) claims a letter from the NTC sent to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) shows otherwise.

In the letter, NTC Chief Executive Nick Dimopoulos tells the Commission it should scrap certain pay methods, such as kilometre-based and incentive rates.

Although saying the NTC does not specialise in industrial relations, Dimopoulos claims overhauling pay methods "would be an important step towards improving safety outcomes in the heavy vehicle industry".

He goes on to write that the Federal Government has adopted the findings of a report claiming there is a link between safety and remuneration.

"The Government is considering the manner and timeframes in which the recommendations of [Lance] Wright and [Professor Michael] Quinlan are to be implemented," Dimopoulos writes.

However, the Government had made no decision, which Shearer says is a "serious error" on the NTC’s behalf.

"He [Dimopoulos] stepped way out of line when he said that," he says.

However, the spokesman for the NTC says Dimopoulos’ letter was misinterpreted and the NTC was within its rights to contact the AIRC.

"The Award modernisation process was set up to operate in conjunction with the new Australian workplace relations system," he says.

"As the safe payments report established a link between payment systems and safety – including the kilometre rate as commercial incentive to break the law – NTC believes it is important for the AIRC to consider this information."

But Dimopoulos’ claim that scrapping the kilometre rate will increase safety in the industry has drawn scorn from Shearer, who says there is no evidence to support the assertion.

"It is complete nonsense to argue that removing the kilometre rate and replacing it with an hourly rate will increase safety," he says.

Shearer says a trip rate already deters drivers from driving for long periods, while the argument to replace current pay methods is based on anecdotal evidence which has not been verified.

He says a trip rate is usually based on a driver traveling 75km/h, meaning it pays better than an hourly rate because drivers usually travel at higher speeds, especially on highways.

"The NTC has not put forward an intelligent, reasonable argument. It has no role dabbling in industrial relations," Shearer says.

But while Shearer, who also chairs the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) safety committee, says more should be done on enforcement and anti-speeding measures, the NTC claims it is nothing more than a complementary measure.

It submitted its own report on pay methods to the Australian Transport Council (ATC) last year, which follows the findings raised by Quinlan and Wright.

In its recommendations, the NTC calls for government intervention in the marketplace to establish a federal body to oversee a ‘safe rates’ scheme.

It recommended Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese progress the issue with his ministerial colleagues and to report back to the ATC when it meets in May this year.

The Federal Government last year announced a review into whether there was a link between safety and pay following concerted lobbying by the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

Quinlan and Wright presented their findings to the ATC during its November meeting.

The authors argued coronial inquests, government inquiries and court and tribunal hearings show payment levels are linked to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use.

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