CFMEU muscles in on TWU's turf

ACCC decision on owner-drivers may lead to union stoush between CFMEU and TWU

CFMEU muscles in on TWU's turf
CFMEU muscles in on TWU's turf
By Brad Gardner

The competition watchdog wants to give another body the power to represent owner-drivers in Queensland, creating the potential for a union showdown.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) yesterday proposed authorising the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy (CFMEU) Union the power to help tipper truck owner-drivers voluntarily negotiate contracts with earthmoving companies.

If accepted, the provision will allow the CFMEU to provide secretariat services and advice in south-east Queensland. The ACCC says it will not allow the union to conduct negotiations on behalf of owner-drivers.

But the decision is expected to anger the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which warned against giving the CFMEU a foothold in the industry.

"This would inevitably lead to industrial unrest and demarcation disputes between the unions," the TWU stated in its submission to the ACCC.

According to the union, the CFMEU’s influence will "create an unstable industrial landscape" over owner-driver coverage.

This is because the CFMEU proposed representing owner-drivers in "the Brisbane area", which the TWU claims is confusing because the area is not specified.

There are fears the CFMEU’s 24 owner-driver members will have an unfair advantage over TWU members or those not aligned with any union.

The TWU is also concerned of losing members because there will be an incentive for owner-drivers to collectively bargain.

Despite this, the ACCC sees benefit in granting the CFMEU newfound powers.

"The ACCC considers the proposed collective bargaining arrangements are likely to enable the owner drivers to have greater input into their contract terms and conditions and be more commercially efficient," ACCC Chairman Graeme Samuel says.

The CFMEU claims it needs the powers to help stop its members from being exploited.

"Over the past few years, numerous owner-driver members have expressed concern to the union regarding their working entitlements and conditions, and their lack of ability to negotiate with customers," the CFMEU’s submission reads.

But the Queensland Trucking Association (QTA) disputed the CFMEU’s claims, claiming there is no evidence to support the assertions.

QTA Chief Executive Peter Garske also raised the spectre of price collusion should the ACCC agree to the union’s demands.

He says owner-drivers are independent contractors and should be subject to a commercial rather than an employment-like contract of collective bargaining.

"The union is proposing that the commission treat part of a commercial contract as an employment contract and subject it to employment type regulation," Garske says.

"In other words, commercial law and regulation is corrupted to enable collusion and price-fixing to be applied to a commercial contract."

Garske says the CFMEU is attempting to take away the risk factor of being in business, in turn restricting competition by propping up the lower end of the market at the expense of high achievers.

"This is a detriment to the industry as a whole. The proposal distorts the free operation of the transport market, thus damaging all operators, including owner-drivers," he writes.

But the ACCC says the presence of up to 1000 other owner-drivers in south-east Queensland means there will be an alternative to dealing with the proposed bargaining group.

However, in pledging support for the CFMEU’s proposal, the ACCC wants to ensure contractors are not pressured to negotiate if the bargaining group’s numbers grow.

Samuel wants to impose a condition on the CFMEU forcing it to report to the ACCC the number of owner-drivers in the group.

He says this will give the watchdog the information to determine if the size of the group affects contractors’ ability to voluntarily negotiate.

The ACCC has released a draft determination on the proposal, and has called for stakeholder submissions before making a final decision.

Spokespeople for the CFMEU and TWU were unavailable for comment.

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