ATA re-enters safe rates debate...sort of


ATA re-enters safe rates debate, amid claims it will sell industry "down the drain" if it doesn't become involved

By Brad Gardner | June 18, 2010

The Australian Trucking Association is planning to re-enter the debate on safe rates – in a limited way – after passing a motion during its recent council meeting.

The group, which previously ruled out involvement in the matter, will now make a submission to a discussion paper on safe rates when it is released by Industrial Relations Minister Julia Gillard.

Gillard last year established the Safe Rates Advisory Group, which is due to submit its options paper to her soon. The Government will then release a discussion paper on its preferred scheme.

In papers from the ATA council meeting leaked to ATN, South Australian Road Transport Association Executive Director Steve Shearer called for the ATA to become involved.

But due to a separate motion passed, ATA Government Relations Manager Bill McKinley says the submission must not refer to freight rates, pay rates, employment conditions and the mechanism used to create the scheme.

The ATA originally opposed safe rates but eventually adopted no position on the issue on the basis it dealt with industrial relations, which is outside the ATA’s responsibilities.

But in his written recommendation outlined in the council papers, Shearer says the issue also deals with safety. He says the ATA should argue there is no direct causal link between pay and safety and that any scheme will not improve safety.

Shearer, who staunchly refuses any link between safety and rates of pay, claims the ATA "will be selling the industry down the drain" if it does not become involved.

He claims safe rates will only lead to increased costs to operators and a rise in union activity because the movement will use the scheme to push an industrial relations campaign.

"Once the TWU…succeeds in establishing a safety basis for wages and rates of pay, no matter how shallow unsubstantiated and false that may be, then the industry will never recover that ground and the TWU will be able to argue for rate and wage increases based upon road safety outcomes," Shearer says.

ACADEMICS FIND LINK BETWEEN SAFETY AND PAY
A study by a team of academics in the US led by the respected Professor Michael Belzer found the probability of a truck crash fell by 36 percent for every 10 percent increase in wages.

A report commissioned by the National Transport Commission in 2008 found an indisputable link between pay rates and safety.

Authors Professor Michael Quinlan and Lance Wright QC criticised those who deny a connection, saying they provide "little if any research or credible evidence to discount or provide alternative explanations to research indicating that such connection exists.

The study recommended a federal body with the power to fix rates for employed drivers and owner-drivers.

Occupational health and safety expert Professor Ann Williams says there is "very good evidence of a link between driver payment, remuneration and safety outcomes".

Barrister Adam Hatcher, who is a member of the advisory group, has called for chain of responsibility for pay to ensure operators are reimbursed enough so they can afford to pay their drivers more.

"The problem is not that most employers are simply ripping off their workers by denying them a fair wage, it is because they themselves can’t recover sufficient money from the person next up the contracting chain," he says.


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