Waiting times top of list for tribunal

Customers forcing transport providers to sit in queues for hours on end will be in the firing line if the proposed safe rates tribunal kicks off on July 1

By Brad Gardner | February 20, 2012

Supply chain customers forcing transport providers to sit in queues for hours on end could be brought into line as soon as this year if the proposed safe rates tribunal goes ahead.

In an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph today, federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese says the issue of waiting time will be a priority for the tribunal.

Announced in response to a report linking low rates of pay and unsafe practices, the tribunal will be equipped with the power to scrutinise the supply chain and issue remuneration orders to improve safety.

"One of the first things for the tribunal to address will be waiting times…It is not uncommon for drivers to wait up to ten hours to load and unload their truck," Albanese writes.

"This waiting time is not paid and it can’t be classed as an official rest break, further forcing them to speed and drive tired to make up time. I don’t think any Australian would think this was fair. Or safe."

Rejecting claims from sections of the transport and logistics industry that incessantly deny a link between pay and safety exists, Albanese says "countless" inquiries over more than 10 years have all reached the same conclusion: "the nation’s truck drivers deserve safe rates."

"This simply means a fair wage that would remove the incentive for drivers to resort to unsafe practices behind the wheel. Almost 30 percent of owner drivers are paid below the award rate. Many say low earnings are forcing them to compromise on repairs and maintenance," he says.

A parliamentary committee last week held a public hearing on the proposed tribunal and Albanese says it will report its findings in March.

"It is my fervent hope that the Parliament will support this piece of common-sense, fair and long-overdue legislation," he says.

The tribunal is due to begin on July 1 and will be made up of representatives from Fair Work Australia and independent work, health and safety experts.

Along with parliamentary and coronial inquiries, numerous reports from the likes of professors Michael Quinlan, Ann Williamson and Michael Belzer have concluded low rates of pay and incentive-based payments lead to poor safety outcomes.

In his opinion piece, Albanese cites the hyper-competitive nature of the
freight task where drivers cut corners to make deadlines and companies undercut one another to secure contracts.

He adds that there is little thought given to the men and women behind the wheel to deliver consumer goods.

"As Australians queue at the check-out, most wouldn’t give a thought to the vast fleet of workers that bring the products to our supermarket aisles. But it is the truck drivers who drive often long distances through the night to make this happen," he says.

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