Govt will act on driver rates, Gillard tells unions

Government appears ready to mandate truck driver rates, with Julia Gillard "committed" to the process

Govt will act on driver rates, Gillard tells unions
Govt will act on driver rates, Gillard tells unions
By Jason Whittaker

The Federal Government appears ready to mandate truck driver rates, with the union confident legislation could be drafted soon.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard made it clear at a union meeting today the Government will act on safe rates, with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) strongly urging her to bypass further consultation and take new laws to parliament.

The Government has been subjected to a sustained campaign from the union, led by federal boss Tony Sheldon, to act on a report last year recommending federally legislated driver rates in the trucking industry to improve safety.

Gillard’s office is still refusing to comment on what the Government might do, but the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations makes it clear change is coming.

"Through tripartite engagement we will be reforming independent contracting and the transport industry," she today the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) conference in Brisbane today.

"Australia’s truck drivers work hard to make a living. But they shouldn’t have to die to make a living and we will be working on safe rates to prevent them from having to take that risk.

Gillard says she will work with the TWU and "responsible employers" to ensure "drivers are paid for all the work they do".

"We will make sure that payment methods and rates do not require drivers to speed or work excessive hours just to make ends," she says.

Sheldon says the Government "is committed" to introducing safe rates for employees and owner-drivers.

He says Gillard is using the inquiry into trucking safety led by the National Transport Commission (NTC) as a "road map" for introducing mandatory minimum rates.

"We’ve had 10 years, we’ve had umpteen coroners’ reports, umpteen government inquires, the NTC report, consulted the length and breath of the industry, and safe rates has been the outcome in all inquiries," he told ATN from the ACTU conference.

"Now the Government must act."

He’s urging Gillard to "quickly develop" draft legislation, saying "industry has already had a say".

He says 169 people have died in heavy vehicle incidents since the inquiry report came down, rejecting criticism he has had undue influence within the Government.

"I would expect people driving truck drivers to their deaths and turned around and stood by while 169 people have been killed since the NTC report, they will be screaming from the rooftops," he says.

"But people who want a fair playing field [will support safe rates]."

Sheldon says legislation should look to harmonise existing state law, including the New South Wales contract determination scheme and Victoria’s owner-driver legislation.

Industry groups remain in the dark as to what Gillard’s "tripartite engagement" could involve.

"What is the Government expecting from some a process?" Paul Ryan from the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) asks.

Ryan says ARTIO and other groups are happy to work with the Government, particularly in regards to training regimes, but the industry remains firmly opposed to a scheme of mandatory trucking rates.

He says new employment agreements developed under the post-WorkChoices award modernisation process already address minimum rates of pay.

"At the end of the day any responsible employer organisation needs to be involved in the process. You can’t influence the result sitting on the sideline," he says.

"If they want to roll over Bluecard and stuff like that then we’ll have some serious issues, [but] if they want to have a national training system not tied to Bluecard I don’t think any responsible employer will have an issue with that."

Ryan says Sheldon has been working the corridors of Parliament House lobbying for a system of safe rates.

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